New Zealand author Frances Housden triumphs again. The prologue returns us to her prior novel, The Man for Maggie. In one of its closing scenes, Jo Jellic saved Max Strachan’s life by diverting the killer’s attention and drawing fire upon herself. Her sergeant, Rowan McQuaid, jumped in front of her and took the bullet in his leg, resulting in the loss of his career in law enforcement.
Jo remained silent during the ensuing internal police investigation and, rather than identifying Max’s ill-advised conduct of placing is life in jeopardy, accepted her transfer to Nick’s Landing, a small rural community where she now investigates shoplifters rather than murderers. These two years of exile have seriously eroded her sense of worth, but the one redeeming feature in the demotion is that she discovers her father’s former partner. Rocky Skelton is running the local bar.
Jo’s late father and Rocky had been police officers; her father had died in disgrace with his reputation destroyed by alleged drug involvement. Jo sees this as a chance to try and prove her father’s innocence.
Opportunity strikes as the department finally hands her a case no one else wants, only because they believe it can never be solved. The very same Rocky Skelton has been trussed, tortured and left to die in an arson fire that destroyed his home. He is claming it was the work of Satanists…a new concept for Nick’s Landing.
Jo is surprised one day to meet her old friend Rowan McQuaid at the department in a deep huddle with the powers that be. In reality McQuaid is Rowan’s middle name and he is a Stanhope, Nick’s Landings’ first family. Among their vast holdings are several insurance companies and Rowan is in town investigating the arson claim before his company pays Rocky’s settlement.
Jo and Rowan are thrown together again. Rowan is still concealing his wealthy background and able to do so by his very long absence from the town. Jo has now worked her way through her unfortunate crush on Max, but Rowan has not rid himself of his attraction for Jo.
These facts merely set the stage for the complex joint investigation of Jo and Rowan into Rocky’s fire. The plot is complex, the pacing varies, the scenes are taut, the dialogue is crisp, the characters very well developed and the sexual and mystery suspense well sustained. All of this set in very small town New Zealand gives the reader a true sense of place as the story moves swiftly along.
Although occasionally cluttered by too many plot facets, Frances Housden continues to evolve as a very gifted writer.