Author: Gary Gusick
Series: Darla Cavanaugh mystery series #1
Type: Kindle e-book ARC
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group - Alibi
Publication Date: November 18, 2013
First Line: "It was 6:00 a.m. and still dark when Reverend Jimmy Aldridge dragged the seven-foot pine cross from the back of his oversized SUV."
Book Description from GoodReads: In a fast-paced, suspenseful debut novel for fans of Harlan Coben and Lisa Gardner, detective Darla Cavannah goes Deep South in pursuit of a merciless killer.
Outside the local women’s health clinic, the Reverend Jimmy Aldridge waving his protest sign is a familiar sight. But that changes early one morning when someone shoots the beloved Reverend Jimmy dead. Sheriff Shelby Mitchell knows the preacher’s murder will shock the good people of Jackson—and the pressure to find the killer is immediate and intense, which is why Shelby calls in detective Darla Cavannah.
When police detective Darla moved from Philadelphia to Jackson with her husband—hometown football hero Hugh “the Glue” Cavannah—she never imagined the culture shock that awaited. Then after Hugh dies in a car crash, Darla enters a self-imposed exile in her Mississippi home, taking a leave of absence from the sheriff’s department. Now she’s called back to duty—or coerced, more like it, with Shelby slathering on his good-ole-boy charm nice and thick, like on a helping of barbecue.
Reluctantly partnered with a mulish Elvis impersonator, Darla keeps a cool head even as the community demands an arrest. The court of public opinion has already convicted the clinic’s doctor, Stephen Nicoletti, but Darla is just as sure he’s not guilty—even as she fights her growing attraction to him. From the genteel suburbs to a raunchy strip club, Darla follows a trail of dirty money and nasty secrets—until the day of judgment comes, and she faces down an ungodly assassin.
Note: My sincere thanks to Random House Publishing Group - Alibi and NetGalley for providing me with a complimentary e-book copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.
My Review: Darla Cavanaugh is the protagonist for this new mystery series set in Mississippi. Darla moves back with her husband back to his hometown when his NFL career is cut short due to injury. After his sudden death Darla decides to stay in the small town even though she is considered an outsider by the townspeople.
There are two things that I need in order to give a high rating to a mystery. I need to be surprised by the twists (which I admit can be a big undertaking) which keep me guessing 'who dunnit' and I need to have a connection with the characters. While there were twists and turns to the storyline and it kept my interest in the beginning, it was the characters that I had an issue with.
First, Darla started out as a great character. She was a strong, independent woman who just wants to prove to this small town that she's more than just her famous husband's widow and that she's got what it takes even though the locals still see her as a 'fish out of water' Yankee.
Darla started to lose her likeability when she encounters her love interest. It felt very rushed, unbelievable and I personally could have done without it. I think it changed Darla's character from strong and independent to a mushy, doting female and I didn't like that. The love interest, like Officer Elvis (see below) got in the way of the pace of the plot and that's where I started to waiver and lose interest.
There was one character which I couldn't stand. Officer Elvis. Well, bless his heart. He was Darla's partner on the case and I found him to be very annoying with his antics and how he seemed to have carte blanche when it came to policing the town. No one, not even his superior officer, even so much as rapped his knuckles for not doing things by the book. I was honestly hoping that he'd get his comeuppance .... or get shot. Not a good sign for a character when you want them 'offed'. He was the clichéd 'guy who has to be top dog' no matter what and was more of a distraction to the storyline if anything. If the reader had been shown a glimmer of a deeper side to him then maybe I could have gotten on board with his antics but unfortunately he was a one trick pony.
There were also terms that were used by some of the townspeople which seemed unnecessary, outdated and prejudiced. These terms made my stomach turn. It went from using the terms 'chink' and 'eyetalians' to describing a gay man as a 'butt guy'. I'm not proclaiming to be an expert on all things Mississippi but I think that the author went a little overboard casting the townspeople as a bunch of ignorant, simple, narrow-minded bigots. It was overdone and caused me to focus on these terms instead of the mystery.
As for the mystery? There were quite a few minor plot twists thrown in to keep the reader guessing. The main premise dealt with a very sensitive topic but in doing so, I didn’t feel like the author tried to sway his readers to support either side of the controversy for which I was glad. He stuck to the murder mystery and the topic of abortion was left for the reader to decide.
I hope that the future books in this new series will focus on keeping Darla as a strong protagonist and less on the antics of her blue suede shoe wearing partner. I feel that this series has the chance to be a good, suspenseful read if it focuses on the mystery and spends more time letting the reader get to know the main characters.
My Rating: 2.5/5 stars