Catching Heat is the third and final book in Janice Cantore’s Cold Case Justice series. Having been a huge fan of the TV show Cold Case, I was initially excited to read this novel. That excitement, however, was soon tempered when none of the cases featured in Catching Heat managed to hold my attention. The lack of a cogent plot and interesting characters make this a story that I cannot recommend. You will be much better served to watch reruns of Cold Case on TV instead.
Due to the nature of one of the mysteries, this review contains major spoilers for the first two novels in the series.
Police Detective Abby Hart and Private Investigator Luke Murphy are members of the West Coast’s federal cold case squad. Other than being colleagues, they are also linked by a personal tragedy: twenty-seven years ago, Abby’s parents and Luke’s uncle all perished in a restaurant fire. Or so it was believed. In Drawing Fire and Burning Proof, the two previous books in the series, Abby and Luke learned that the fire was set as a cover-up for murder. Alyssa Rollins, the wife of the current governor of California, ordered police officer Gavin Kent to kill Abby’s parents. Abby’s mother was shot and died at the scene, but Abby’s father Buck managed to get away. Two days later, Buck showed up at Gavin Kent’s home to seek justice for his wife and was killed by Gavin’s fiancée Kelsey Cox. Luke’s uncle, who worked as a cook at the restaurant, was just at the wrong place at the wrong time.
Catching Heat opens with Kelsey Cox confessing to Buck’s murder in open court. Kelsey’s confession, however, means little to Abby as Kelsey still refuses to implicate Alyssa. So when their cold case squad is sent to San Luis Obispo to investigate the twenty-year-old murder of college student Ciara Adessi, Abby sees it as an opportunity. San Luis Obispo is not too far from Templeton where Alyssa grew up. While there, Abby can look into Alyssa’s past in her spare time in the hope of finding clues to explain why Alyssa wanted Abby’s parents dead.
Reading this book was a struggle from the very beginning. Books involving cold cases need to make us care about the victim and show us how the crime has impacted the lives of those around him or her. In this case, we know virtually nothing about Ciara and the only persons of interest we meet are three scummy suspects and one suspect’s overbearing mother. In the absence of a compelling narrative around Ciara, we end up merely watching the cold case squad regurgitate the facts surrounding the case in front of a whiteboard, which is decidedly not exciting. The same can be said of another case that is introduced around the halfway point – a case involving a man who killed his two children and permanently maimed his wife fifteen years ago. Despite my best efforts, I found myself repeatedly putting the book down so I could go do something more interesting, such as re-organizing my closet or doing laundry.
This lack of action extends to Abby and Luke’s romance as well. The romantic element basically consists of Luke and Abby incessantly obsessing over whether or not to tell each other how they feel. In the end, I really couldn’t muster up much enthusiasm when Luke and Abby finally confess their feelings in a perfunctory if-you-blinked-you-would-have-missed-it encounter.
Initially, I was drawn to the story by its premise and the Christian themes. How would the author explore themes of faith and how will the characters reconcile their beliefs with their experiences in law enforcement? Unfortunately, these questions are either left unexplored or proselytized with a complete lack of subtlety. Every time a character raises fear or doubt, it is quickly brushed aside with platitudes such as “we’re safe in God’s hands”. When a character experiences a traumatic event, he is immediately made a believer. By the time I finished the book, I felt like I had just sat through a two-hour sermon, and not a well-delivered one at that.
By the time Catching Heat sputtered to its last pages, Luke and Abby have somehow managed to close all three cases without obtaining even one shred of new evidence for any of them. When looking for the man who murdered his children, Abby and Luke unwittingly set off a chain of events that leads to the apprehension of not only him but Ciara’s murderer as well. And then, before I even had time to marvel at their good fortune, someone ratted out Alyssa Rollins too. I guess this is kind of consistent with the theme of “God will provide”. But when I read a book billed as a mystery, I want to see the detectives solve the case, not to have all of their troubles miraculously wiped clean by a higher being. I hate to be this blunt, but if you are considering reading this book, my advice is don’t bother. There isn’t anything in Catching Heat that hasn’t been done much better in other books. Save your money. You will thank me for it.