I read my first Tracers book by Laura Griffin late last year – book eleven in the series, At Close Range – and thoroughly enjoyed the tightly plotted, edge-of-the-seat story and the steamy romance woven through it, so I eagerly jumped into Touch of Red, the twelfth book. Once again, a member of local law-enforcement joins forces with one of the Tracers – a team comprised of experts in the various areas of forensic science – this time to investigate the brutal and savage killing of a young woman outside her home. It’s a very well-written, cleverly put-together story with plenty of twists and turns and the sort of high-stakes finale typical of many a police procedural; throw in a romance between two people who have faced difficult – and in the case of the hero, life-altering – situations in their recent pasts, and you’ve got a thoroughly entertaining and very readable romantic suspense novel that had me engrossed from beginning to end.
The crime scene to which CSI Brooke Porter is called late one Wednesday evening is among the more problematic she has observed. A young woman has been viciously murdered – her throat has been cut literally from ear to ear – outside her house, and there is no immediately discernible evidence at the scene. The interior of the house is neat, orderly and practically spotless, the victim lived alone and there were no witnesses to the murder… or so it appears. Keen eyed observation and strongly informed intuition lead Brooke to suspect that there was a witness, a suspicion borne out after she performs some very specific and complicated tests that prove there was a child in the house who very likely saw the killing.
Brooke imparts her findings to the team of detectives working the case, and they begin the process of locating him or her, even though there’s little to go on. But they are moving slowly, so Brooke decides to do some investigating of her own, her concern for the safety of the witness causing her to step outside her area of expertise and become involved in aspects of the investigation which aren’t within her remit. This brings her into conflict with the lead detective on the case, Sean Byrne, whose frustration at her actions is two-fold; one, he has to make sure that any evidence uncovered during the investigation is admissible in court and two, he is worried that by branching out on her own, Brooke may be placing herself in danger.
I admit that this aspect of the story didn’t sit all that well with me; I’m no expert, but even I know (from watching TV police shows!) that Brooke’s activities could have had a detrimental effect on the investigation. That said, however, I recognise that it’s the sort of thing that happens regularly in police procedurals (I mean, Castle has a novelist investigating crimes!) so I chalked it up to artistic license and decided to go with the flow.
And it’s a very good flow. Brooke’s methods may not be by the book, but she does help Sean and his team to make a number of important connections that enable them to narrow down their list of suspects, and is instrumental in identifying and making contact with the child witness, a ten-year old boy named Cameron. That doesn’t excuse her occasional recklessness (she veers dangerously close to TSTL once or twice) but it does make for a thumping good story and, of course, enables her to interact with the lovely Sean more frequently than she could have done had she been stuck inside a lab all the time!
Detective Sean Byrne was shot in the line of duty some months earlier and has discovered that almost dying causes one to make all sorts of re-evaluations and reassessments of one’s way of life. He had plenty of time while recovering to work out what really matters to him, to learn patience and the importance of appreciating people and experiences more than ever before. He’s dedicated to his job, but as Brooke observes, pretty chilled when it comes to his personal life – which is a good thing for her, because it means he’s prepared to bide his time when it comes to the relationship he hopes will develop between them. Sean has had a thing for Brooke for some time and senses there’s interest on her side, too, but she’s skittish and guarded around him and he doesn’t know why. He’s determined to get to the bottom of it, however; whatever is holding her back from giving into the strong mutual attraction buzzing between them, he will give her the space and support to work it out. This willingness to let her set the pace sort of unnerves Brooke, who has recently got out of a relationship in which – she now realises – her ex had become increasingly more possessive and controlling. Having a guy around her who is not only prepared, but wants Brooke to make her own decisions and be her own person is a heady thing – but also a little scary because while she knows, deep down, Sean is a good guy, there’s a small part of her that can’t stop second-guessing her instincts when it comes to men and is reluctant to let down her guard completely.
I was as intrigued by this more personal aspect of the story as I was by the main suspense plot, and the author does a terrific job of balancing the two. Brooke and Sean have strong chemistry and given that they have known and ‘like’ liked each other for a while, their progression towards a more romantic relationship doesn’t feel rushed. The murder-mystery is gripping and I really enjoyed the author’s descriptions of the intricacies involved in certain aspects of the forensics, such as Brooke’s explanations of the difficulties involved in lifting childrens’ fingerprints, or the problems inherent in the use of familial DNA.
I would definitely recommend Touch of Red to fans of well-written, strongly-plotted romantic suspense novels, although a couple of things did bring my grade down a notch. Firstly, there seemed to be rather a big leap of logic at one point in the case when the detective team zeroes in on their main suspect; and secondly, in spite of the fact that it’s quite commonplace in these types of stories, I never quite accepted the level of Brooke’s involvement in the investigation. She and Sean clash a number of times over her refusal to leave the detecting to the detectives, and while I understood that she was motivated by her concern for the well-being of a child, I found Sean’s frustration over her lack of concern for her own safety and his worry that she could damage the integrity of the case to be more compelling and understandable. The good thing though, is that Ms. Griffin doesn’t ignore or gloss over these differences of opinion; they’re part of the story and the relationship.
Even with those reservations, I still raced through Touch of Red in a couple of sittings and was bleary-eyed one morning because I’d stayed up way past my bedtime so I could finish it. It works perfectly well as a standalone, although there are cameo appearances from some characters from earlier books, and fans of intelligent, strongly-written romantic thrillers are sure to enjoy it.
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