J. Carson Black

Signet / 384 pages / 1st edition (January 3, 2006)

ISBN: 045121725X

J. Carson Black continues to ignore the common wisdom of writing: debut novels are supposed to be rough and uncertain, fledgling steps into the genre, sophomore efforts stumble coming out of the gate. Right? Wrong. Starting with a spectacular debut that was one of the best novels of 2005, she follows up with a second volume in the Laura Cardinal series that may, in fact, be even better than the first. With a record like that, Black is a force to be reckoned with and an author to keep an eye on.

Yes, Detective Laura Cardinal is back — every sympathetic, flawed, courageous inch of her. This time around she is dealing with a particularly senseless crime, the shooting deaths of two teenage newlyweds on their wedding night. Two people gunned down in the flimsy tent that served as their bridal suite. Whoever committed the crime knew enough to cover their tracks, leaving Cardinal little to go on and a whole town of possible suspects.

Unfortunately, she isn’t going to get much backup on this one. Her new partner is more an annoyance. Everything about him grates on her nerves, especially his tendency to leave most of the work to her. Even at home she cannot count on any support; her boyfriend is showing all the signs of moving on. Or, maybe she’s just being paranoid, but she has a bad feeling about this relationship, just when she was starting to get used to having a man around.

Black’s taut pace and complex story line are more than enough to keep readers glued to the page, but she really shines in her vivid portrayals of characters and settings. Even the slain couple seem to come back to life in her words. (And my personal favourite characters are still living on the roof of her Arizona home.) Cardinal’s determination and drive are on a delicate balance with the deep-rooted loneliness she doesn’t want to admit to even to herself. Her partner’s laid-back, even lazy attitude is just the spark to set Cardinal off. Before they solve the mystery of the murders she may have to send him and his muscle car off a butte. Fortunately, she can count on the assistance of one of the local cops who is eager to work with her.

Knowing Cardinal, readers know she will get to the bottom of these murders. Knowing Black, they can be sure there are twists and loops and deeply buried secrets that will turn the case in new directions no one can predict. With this knockout combination fans will be tempted to plant themselves in a comfy chair and zip straight through Dark Side of the Moon, but do remember to come up for air and to reflect on the expertise of Black’s plotting. Mysteries, murders, conspiracies, and just a touch of romance… It’s a heady concoction. Enjoy it.