Drown Her Sorrows
This third book in Melinda Leigh’s series of romantic suspense novels featuring former detective-turned-Sheriff Bree Taggert is another entertaining read that boasts a cleverly constructed mystery and a set of strongly-defined characters. Bree is becoming more settled into her new life and responsibilities, and she’s trying to deal with some of her long-standing trust issues; I like the way the author dovetails Bree’s work and home life into her stories. But while the mystery is nice and twisty, I didn’t find it quite as compelling as those in the first two books in the series.
When Drown Her Sorrows opens, Bree is heading home after a long day and is looking forward to eating with her family and reading her young niece Kayla a bedtime story. She’s in sight of her late sister’s farmhouse when she gets a call from one of her deputies advising her there’s an abandoned car by the river, and although there’s a purse and phone inside, there’s no sign of the driver. It transpires that the car is registered to Holly Thorpe, a resident of Gray’s Hollow – and it’s been there for around three days. Holly’s husband says he hasn’t seen Holly since she stormed out after they had a fight three nights earlier, and Bree walks down to the river while waiting for the search and rescue team to arrive. She’s not gone far along the riverbank when she finds the body of a woman matching Holly’s description. The presence, in the boot of the car, of a note that says “I can’t anymore. It’s too hard.” would seem to point towards Holly’s death being suicide – but the ME’s findings indicate that Holly was dead before she hit the water, and that she died as a result of compression to the neck. Bree is looking for a murderer.
Former K9 handler Matt Flynn – who was invalided out of the department after he was shot in the line – now works as an investigator and consultant to the sheriff’s department. He and Bree have been slowly working their way around to exploring the attraction that sparked between them when they first met, and by the time this book opens, they’re in a relationship and have decided to see where things might go. He and Bree work together very well and I really enjoy their working dynamic; Bree admits that her focus can be too narrow, and she needs someone like Matt at her back, someone who can see things she might have missed and more than anything, someone she can trust implicitly.
Bree and Matt open their investigation by questioning Holly’s husband; the Thorpe’s marriage was incredibly volatile, with frequent rows that often saw Holly storming out to go and stay with her sister, and their financial situation was precarious owing to their living beyond their means as well as having to pay towards the medical costs for Holly’s mother, who has Stage 4 cancer. These costs are split with Holly’s sister Shannon, although, as Owen Thorpe sees it, not fairly, given that Shannon lives in a much bigger house and has a much nicer lifestyle than he and Holly did. More digging reveals that Holly may have been having an affair with her boss at the construction company she worked for, and also that the firm was in serious financial trouble. Bree and Matt follow up with Holly’s boss, who is obnoxious and uncooperative, which raises all sorts of red flags. But when he’s gunned down outside his own home shortly after, another avenue of investigation into Holly’s death is closed off – and Bree has to consider the fact that the two murders may be linked.
The mystery is intriguing and the investigation is well-paced with a skilful twist near the end I didn’t see coming until I was on top of it. Bree is coming into her own and has gained the trust of those around her, especially her chief deputy with whom she had a bit of a rocky relationship for a while. I like her a lot; she’s hardworking, strong-willed and intuitive, and she’s slowly starting to realise that she can’t go it alone all the time and learning to trust the team she’s building around her.
And then there are Bree’s personal relationships; her past trauma (she was just eight years old when her father shot her mother and then himself; she protected her younger siblings, but grew up apart from them when they went to live with one relative and Bree another) isn’t something she’s dealt with all that well, and growing up apart from her siblings has left a mark, meaning she has to work hard at maintaining personal relationships and learn not to run from them, especially if they could expose her vulnerability. She learned early on that the only person she could rely on was herself, but she’s trying hard to put the past behind her now, for her own sake and for that of her new found family; her sister’s death has left her guardian to her two children, Luke and Kayla, and has also enabled her to reconnect with her younger brother, Adam. And then there’s Matt; lovely, solid, dependable (and sexy) Matt, who has Bree’s back without question and who is falling for her, hard. He respects her professionalism and he’s a calming presence, quietly reminding Bree that she’s allowed to be human rather than a full-time hero. Their relationship is progressing slowly, partly because Bree doesn’t want to be the subject of yet more gossip (she’s had enough of that to last a lifetime), and partly because she’s still adjusting to the massive changes her life has gone through over the past few months. I enjoy these insights into Bree as a person as much as I enjoy her as investigator, and Ms. Leigh strikes a good balance between the two; the mystery is undoubtedly the main focus of the book, but Bree’s home life is richly detailed, the characters are rounded and the relationships are well-written.
Even though the mystery in Drown Her Sorrows isn’t quite as enthralling as those in previous books, it’s clever and well-written, and I really enjoyed the continuing development of Bree’s character and relationships. At a pinch, it could probably be read as a standalone, but I’d strongly suggest going back to book one, Cross Her Heart, so as to gain a fuller understanding of Bree and her situation. In any case, Drown Her Sorrows earns a solid recommendation, and fans of the author and the series are sure to find much to enjoy within its pages.