J.J. Graves has seen a lot of dead bodies in her line of work… She’s not only in the mortuary business, but she’s also the coroner for King George County, Virginia. When a grisly murder is discovered in the small town of Bloody Mary, it’s up to J.J. and her best friend, Detective Jack Lawson, to bring the victim justice. The murders are piling up… The residents of Bloody Mary are dropping like flies, and when a popular mystery writer shows up on J.J.’s doorstep with plans of writing his new book about the Bloody Mary Serial Killer, J.J. has to decide if he might be going above and beyond the call of duty to create the spine tinglers he’s so well known for. It only clouds the issue and puts her reputation on the line when the attraction between them spirals out of control. And passions are rising… J.J and Jack are in a race against time. They discover each victim had a shocking secret, and the very foundation of J.J.’s life is in danger of crumbling when it turns out she’s harboring secrets of her own—secrets that make her the perfect victim in a deadly game.
As much as I love romance fiction, I think I especially like books that pair romance with mystery. Add in an author’s sense of humor expressed in the repartee between the main characters, and you have a read that is a treat for the brain and one that tickles the funny bone. Liliana Hart is relatively new to me and after enjoying this book and one or two others she has published, I can’t imagine not continuing to enjoy her writing. I believe that this book is the first in a series and so will be awaiting the next episode in the life and times of J. J. Graves, M.D.
Jaye (it’s really her middle name; only about three people alive know her first name) is newly returned to Bloody Mary after the tragic deaths of her parents. They left her with a business in financial trouble, an old Victorian mansion that is falling down around itself, and a ton of school loans to repay. Add to all that the fact that Bloody Mary is a small community and her mortuary business doesn’t get many “stiffs.” That’s about to change. Jaye has come from a medical background that is primarily centered in emergency medicine, but in order to make ends meet she has agreed to serve as the county coroner. Thus, along with the sheriff who is her best friend, Jaye is now committed to being involved in and helping to solve the rash of murders that is now plaguing Bloody Mary.
Jaye is also a woman whose personal life is nearly as dead as the bodies in her cooler. There is an awareness on the part of the reader that her relationship with the sheriff is deeper than even that of best friends–a fact that neither Jaye or Jack seem to be aware of, or if they are, are choosing to live in denial. Jaye is delighted to welcome the amorous advances of Brody, a well-known mystery writer who is hoping to use Jaye’s experiences as background for his current writing project. Her love life has been totally dead for four years, so the affair brings some joie de vivre into a very lonely and dull lifestyle. The banter between J. J. and Jack is absolutely a delight. As is true of so many best friends, they have few if any secrets or “sacred cows” that they steer clear of, so just about anything is fair game. The sexual tension ramps up when Jack recognizes that Jaye and Brody have indeed “gotten it on” and he doesn’t like it one bit. The reader is not really privy to Jack’s inner thoughts about the affair, but his actions certainly speak loud and clear.
This is truly a mystery and the identity of the killer won’t be obvious to anyone until the very last few pages. I know my jaw hit the floor when I found out who was killing lots of people, not just those in Bloody Mary. The story is full of suspense, friendship, good dialogue and the kind of fun gossip and open exchange that is usual in small towns, especially those that have a well-oiled informational “grapevine.” Amidst the personal stuff and trying to puzzle out the killer’s identity is the sense of belonging that is present. No matter how lonely or sade J. J. may be she is still a part of Bloody Mary. It is her home, where she began her education, and now it is most definitely her future.
I simply couldn’t s top reading this novel. While chortling through some of the dialogue I ended reading some of it out loud to my hubby who laughed right along with me. I have already put it on my favorites list and plan to go back and re-read it in the near future. Yet there is also a sense that J. J. and Jack’s story isn’t really finished and I can’t wait until the next part of that story becomes available. I think readers will love the open and upfront heroine, even though it turns out that she has a secret or two, just like everyone else in Bloody Mary, Virginia.
I give this novel a 4.5 rating out of 5
You can read more from Judith at Dr J’s Book Place.