Mariah Stewart’s new book, Last Breath, is labeled on the cover “a novel of suspense”, so you know from the start that the romance is going to come in second to the mystery. The novel is the third in a series featuring a family of FBI agents. While I’ve not read the previous books in the series, I’ll be on the lookout for them in the future.
A mutual friend in Morocco sets up Daria McGowan and Connor Shields. They are both attracted to one another, but a business call cuts the evening short for Connor. Daria is leaving Morocco in the morning for an archaeological dig. Connor informs her he works for the FBI and leaves her his number, in case she wants to meet again.
Several months later, Daria is in need of an FBI agent. She’s on a job involving priceless artifacts discovered by her great-grandfather a century earlier in his search for an ancient civilization. But some of the key pieces are missing, prompting Daria’s call to Connor on how to proceed.
Both are glad to have a second chance to get know one another. Over the course of their investigation, a romance slowly blossoms. I found this to be in character with both their personalities and career choice. Being slow, methodical, and cautious is an asset in each characters profession. Moving too quickly or recklessly can destroy evidence or artifacts. Both see a deeper relationship as a goal they are aiming for but they do not plan to rush headlong toward it.
The ancient civilization of Shandihar, known for its worship of the underworld goddess Ereshkigal, has been lost several times in history. The original city vanished, leaving nothing more than a legend behind. Alistair McGowan discovered it in the early 1900s. The treasures he found were shipped back to Howe University, which sponsored the dig. An earthquake again buried the ancient city shortly after its discovery. Alistair dies before he can mount an exhibition of his find, and the priceless artifacts lie virtually forgotten for the next 100 years in the campus museum basement until the university’s president invites Daria to mount her great-grandfather’s exhibition.
After Daria calls Connor, they discover that several of the missing pieces were sold to local collectors in the local area. They decide to pay the owners a visit. At the first house they visit, no one is home. The second house is up for sale because the previous owners had been robbed and murdered. At the third house, the owner had also been murdered and robbed. The niece of the victim tells them that only the object for Shandihar had been stolen. Her aunt also had her hand cut off and her tongue cut out.
Daria recognizes this as an ancient punishment practiced in Shandihar. Feeling very uneasy, the two head back to house number one. They discover a skinny dog anxious to get out – and a third victim. While waiting for the crime scene investigation to wrap up, Daria and Sweet Thing, the dog, begin to bond. She takes the dog home with her. Sweet Thing proves to be an excellent watchdog and she is instrumental to Connor and Daria in more ways than one, particularly when Daria is endangered.
Though the romance was less the focus than the mystery, it worked for me. The hero and heroine remained in character throughout the book. As for the main storyline, the suspense was realistic for the premise, and mystery fans will be pleased to know that because there were numerous suspects, the villain’s identity came as a bit of a surprise. All in all, a success. Ms. Stewart did leave some story threads dangling, including the mysterious ailment that killed Alistair and several workers on the dig, and the disappearance of Diara’s brother, who went missing in the Amazon jungle and has not been seen since. Hopefully these threads will be addressed in her next book. I am already looking forward to it.