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December 19, 2020

3 Tense Police Procedurals You Won't Want to Put Down

by MK French

The long winter nights are perfect for books that you can't put down once you start. Today, I'm sharing three police procedurals I recently read that are so tensely written I was hooked from the beginning.

Amazon affiliate links are used on this site. Free books were provided for an honest review.

The Trafficking Murders by Brian O'Hare

The Trafficking Murders
October 2020; Crimson Cloak; 978-1681607313
ebook, print (308 pages); police procedural
Detective Sheehan finds the body of a young woman in the garden of an upscale home. Young Chinese women selected to go to University in Belfast and a young Romanian woman who intended to work in Northern Ireland were caught up in a web of Chinese racketeers, human traffickers, and a clever killer called The Shadow. Sheehan and his team have to race to find the other two women.

The forward explains the reality of human trafficking in the UK, especially in Northern Ireland, and that uses are not always for prostitution but also domestic service and manufacturing. It's modern slavery, in essence, and still present not only in the UK, but across Europe, Asia, and the US as well. We open with Lui Hui wanting out of her forced indenture after two years, and her contact terrified of the Shadow. We're next following Sheehan and his team as they try to track down the identity of the body that was found, and move through the Chinese community and the populace at Queens University. There's subtle and unsubtle racism, even in University staff, and finding the identity of the body doesn't help them find out why she was murdered.

In the meantime, Alina is from a poor farming family in Romania, and she's enticed with talk about overseas work so that she can send money home to her poor parents. It's how she and several other young women were coerced onto a ship where "training" for a life of prostitution begins (thankfully off-page) because their families' lives are threatened if they don't cooperate. One of the men that was trafficked on the same boat knew English and had hidden money, which allowed him to eventually get out and get the police on board and aware of the trafficking.

The two threads of trafficking wind up being tied together, and it takes the entire team canvassing the city to take down the threat. I kept turning pages to find out the next piece of the puzzle, the next body, the next suspect. Everyone is a suspect until they're not, Sheehan says, and it's definitely true with this cast of characters. I was hooked until the very end of the book. With the terrible natures of the crimes, I was definitely rooting for Sheehan and his team to get to the truth and save the innocent.

The Wicked Hour by Alice Blanchard

The Wicked Hour
December 2020; Minotaur Books; 978-1250205735
audio, ebook, print (304 pages); police procedural
Burning Lake is known for its extreme Halloween party taking up the whole town. The following morning during cleanup, a dead body is found and Natalie Lockhart is part of the case looking into the young woman’s death. As Natalie retraces the woman’s steps to discover her identity and the identity of her killer, she uncovers a string of other murders and the possibility of a tie to her best friend that had disappeared after high school graduation. The killer might be someone she knows and might be setting a trap for her that she can’t avoid.
The Wicked Hour is the second book featuring Natalie Lockhart. I hadn’t read the first book, which probably outlines the events that the characters keep referring back to. It didn’t slow down my enjoyment of this book or attachment to the characters. It felt like I was dumped in media res, with enough clues to keep from breaking me out of the flow. For me, it felt like another layer of mystery and standoffishness that separated her from her coworkers on the force, all of whom she seems to have known since school. Small towns are like that, and the weight of that history means that a lot of frustration and hurt can remain unspoken for years. These small towns also have pressure to keep their reputations picturesque for the sake of tourism and events; Burning Lake for their Halloween festival, and Chaste Falls for the conservatory.

We follow Natalie on her investigation, going over every clue as it’s found. A lot of it is related to conversations with different townsfolk, including people that Natalie grew up with. There are not only a lot of details about her past but little tidbits that she follows on to the next step in the chain as she traces out the timeline. It’s slow and methodical, more like the real world than an hour-long police procedural TV show, and I really like how it gives insight into the characters as well as the nature of the profession. It’s also a lull before the next shoe drops. Natalie is disappointed in the things she discovers about people she has known all her life, and I can’t imagine that kind of emotional devastation. When we get to the conclusion of the novel, it’s nonstop tension and a literal dizzying drop that is so viscerally described, I thought I was right along with Natalie the entire time.

Tensely done, this is a gripping mystery right to the very end.

Buy The Wicked Hour at Amazon

Death of a Messenger by Robert McCaw

Death of a Messenger
January 2020; Oceanview Publishing; 978-1608094035
ebook, print (352 pages); police procedural
Koa Kane is drawn into the investigation of a body within a lava tube that has a ritualistic aspect to it. There are concerns about the archaeological site the body was found in, which has strong ties to Hawaiian culture. This means the roster of suspects includes grave robbers, activists, and even astronomers, and he already has too many obstacles to overcome. How the body was killed is less of a problem than why: was his secret so dangerous it will get others killed?

Hawaiian myth and culture is steeped throughout this novel, as well as Koa’s back story. Even for those that didn’t read the prior novel, his history is mentioned several times across several chapters. It slows down the flow of the investigation, and there are many interesting characters for Koa to interview. Once we get past that a few chapters in, the pace picks up and then I was drawn into the story more. There is the murder to look into, as well as the archaeological site, the astronomers on the mountain, and the politics involved with both. Major players in the search are tied to the ancient Hawaiian royal lineage and the movement to reclaim Hawaii for Hawaiians.

I enjoyed seeing the story unfold, and that it's about the small details to get to the bottom of the mystery. Koa pays attention to those details, from the way people react to each other, to missing items, to misshapen areas that hide clues and illegal activities. It's something of a surprise when we get to the ending and all those clues come together and we're told what had happened. This was a book that drew me in and captured my attention, and I raced to get to the end. Very tensely done, and I look forward to future books featuring Koa Kane.

Buy Death of a Messenger at Amazon

Born and raised in New York City, M.K. French started writing stories when very young, dreaming of different worlds and places to visit. She always had an interest in folklore, fairy tales, and the macabre, which has definitely influenced her work. She currently lives in the Midwest with her husband, three young children, and a golden retriever. 

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