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: