Mercy Creek (Jo Wyatt #2), by M.E. Browning

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, M.E. Browning, and Crooked Lane Books for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

I can always be guaranteed an intense read when I choose one of M.E. Browning’s novels and this was no exception. Focussing less on the razzle-dazzle of the big city, Browning takes things into a more rural setting and turns her attention on the story, with its strong characters and ever-evolving plot. In Echo Valley, Colorado, Detective Jo Wyatt is still trying to make a name for herself, seeking to step from the shadow her father’s cast. When a young girl goes missing, it’s more than a case, but a trip down a bumpy part of the past. Wyatt is forced to relive a time when she lost a good friend to a jealous accusation and has never been able to settle things. Now, as time passes and the girl is nowhere to be found, it’s a race for answers and truths in a community that almost seems indifferent. The truth is out there, but Wyatt will have to peel back layers of emotion to get to the core of the matter! Another great story that is sure to impress many readers.

In Echo Valley, Colorado, there’s nothing like a fair. The midway, the animals, and even the county competitions stir up intrigue in this small community. However, when young Lena Flores does not show up on Sunday morning, some begin to wonder what’s going on. Her mother, Tilda, is beside herself and cannot get the police out to the house fast enough. Lena’s older sister, Marisa, is sure her sister is only seeking some attention, but this soon turns to worry, when the eleven year-old appears to have simply vanished.

When Detective Jo Wyatt is called to the scene, it’s more than just a job. Wyatt grew up in Echo Valley and has been trying to make a name for herself on the police force, seeking to dodge the reputation her father delivered from a long career on the force. Wyatt’s also got a long history with the Flores parents, dating back to their time in high school when things went horribly wrong. Still, this is a missing child case and Wyatt will do all she can to bring Lena home safely.

Combing through the fields and any video surveillance they can, Wyatt and her partner finger a few possible suspects, including the girl’s father, Lucero. Digging a little deeper, Wyatt tries to piece together what might have happened and who could have wanted to abduct Lena. All the while, she is trying to deal with the politics of a new chief and his plans for Echo Valley.

Working as many leads as she can, including a carny who took an unhealthy interest in Lena, Detective Wyatt tries to make headway in a case that is slipping out of her grasp. With little on which to go and the clock speeding ahead, this could soon morph into a case of a different sort. When a call comes in that some hikers found something along a trail, it sends a frigid jolt down Wyatt’s spine and opens another can of worms best left shelved, as well as a new line of questioning. A strong story and gripping ending shows that M.E. Browning has what it takes to make an impact.

I’ve enjoyed each of the novels M.E. Browning has penned, as they get to the core of the matter in short order and seek to develop a strong story without all the glitz and glamour that some authors feel must decorate their writing. Gritty and heartfelt in equal measure, Browning tells a story and keeps the reader on their toes throughout the experience, trusting the strength of her writing. I powered through this book in short order, as it was that good and found myself connected to the story.

Jo Wyatt is again front and centre in this piece, working through her own issues to serve the community of Echo Valley. She’s got big shoes to fill, something those around her never fail to mention, yet she is always trying to better herself and help those in need. The reader is able to see a glimpse of her personal struggles from a past that had many issues, as well as some growth in her professional career. I am eager to see more of her in the coming years, as she comes across as a no-nonsense cop with a great deal to prove, both to herself and all readers.

Browning develops strong supporting characters throughout the piece, keeping the story moving along without being derailed by too many sub-plots. Things develop effectively with those who complement Detective Wyatt well, as each storyline links together at some point in the larger narrative. Shedding light on both the investigation and an earlier time in Echo Valley, these characters offer something needed to the story without over complicating the delivery.

There’s something about a focused and gritty procedural that gets me every time. M.E. Browning delivers a great deal in this second novel of her new series. With a strong narrative, the story flows well and each subplot finds its place. Gaining momentum through a string of mid-length chapters, the story keeps a good focus and yet develops both plot and character without needing to add unnecessary flourishes. Browning has proven herself yet again and can hold the reader’s attention throughout, using small town settings to hone the basics of the story. I’m eager to see where things will go from here, as this is a series that caught my eye and has so many loose threads yet to be tied off. Let’s hope M.E. Browning feels the same way!

Kudos, Madam Browning, for another great piece. I hope others take notice and find themselves as enthralled as I was throughout.

Be sure to check for my review, first posted on Mystery and Suspense, as well as a number of other insightful comments by other reviewers.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

Shadow Ridge: A Jo Wyatt Mystery, by M.E. Browning

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, M. E. Browning, and Crooked Lane Books for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

M. E. Browning is back with a new novel (and series?) that is sure to catch the interest of many readers. Full of all the essential ingredients for a great thriller, this book is well worth the invested time and effort. From the chilly parts of Echo Valley, Colorado, Detective Jo Wyatt is doing her best to stay level-headed. She’s just been passed over for promotion to sergeant. To add insult to injury, her soon-to-be former husband has won the honour. Chin up and ready to put the sad experience behind her, Wyatt is called to the scene of an apparent suicide. A young man was found by Quinn Kirkwood, a classmate who had come to do a welfare check on him. The rifle appears to have done a clean job, leaving Wyatt to surmise that there’s no question about what happened. But, when Quinn shares that she is being threatened by email, Wyatt agrees to poke around a little to see what she can make of it. Wyatt learns that the victim and Quinn were both in a class together where they were creating a new computer game as their final project. Wyatt wants to know a little more about whether the victim might have had any enemies, but it would seem that gaming was all the guy liked to do. When Wyatt pays a visit to the District Attorney, who had been renting the property where the suicide occurred  she learns that there’s more to the story than meets the eye. It would seem this D.A.’s teenage son knew the victim, also having died by suicide. This lights a beacon inside Wyatt’s head and she is not ready to let things go. After more conversations with Quinn, they agree to keep talking to see if they can get to the heart of the matter. When Quinn sees another of her classmates drive off a road and crash to his death, Wyatt begins to wonder if someone might be trying to send a message. She pushes forward as best she can, but ends up at countless dead ends. There must be something about this game that holds the key, though Wyatt knows little about the world. A brief tutorial from Quinn sheds some needed light, but there is still a massive question mark and only one person left with ties to the missing game, Quinn Kirkwood. It’s time to push forward and find the answers that have been eluding Jo Wyatt for the entire case. A gritty thriller that pulls M.E. Browning back into the limelight with new ideas and great characters. Recommended to those who enjoy a small-town police procedural, as well as the reader looking for something with a light peppering of tech talk!

It is always nice to see an author use some of their past experiences and infuse them into books. M. E. Browning’s past in law enforcement shines through in this piece, with the added bonus of bringing the role of a women in power to the table. Jo Wyatt has a long history with Echo Valley PD, made even longer because her father was once a member of the force. As the story progresses, the reader sees much of the strains within Wyatt’s backstory and how she has never been able to live up to the enormous expectations her father laid out. While she struggles personally, her work ethic is second to none and she shows just how determined she can be, seeking to work within the parameters of a small force with a major crime on their plate. The reader will see some grit balanced with the emotional side of Wyatt, as they vie to define her throughout the novel. A number of secondary characters not only add to the story, but pull the plot in a number of directions. Quinn Kirkwood alone has enough depth to almost act as a secondary protagonist, showing up throughout in a major role. The story may not have been entirely unique, but it is not that which differentiates novels in the genre. Rather, M. E. Browning’s handling of the scene and how she developed the plot is the means by which the reader can feel they are reading something superior. With a mix of perspectives, there is insight from all sides as the story leaves the door open about who could be behind these deaths and for what reason. With a few plot lines that provide suspects, it’s a matter of patience and intuitiveness on the part of the reader to crack the case wide open. Browning keeps things interesting throughout and does not rely on too many stereotypical police procedural elements that leave readers wondering why they spent their time on the same old thing. I can only hope that Browning has more in store for Jo Wyatt, as this was a great start of what could be an exciting series!

Kudos, Madam Browning, for a great series debut. I enjoyed your past work and will keep my ear to the ground for your next project.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: