By Rachel Howzell Hall; reviewed by Jeannette Hartman
Mystery writers from Raymond Chandler to Michael Connelly have used L.A. as a backdrop in their stories. Our periodic book reviews will focus on contemporary books that do the same.
Grayson Sykes is on her first assignment as an investigator for Rader Consulting when she meets the arrogant Dr. Ian O’Donnell at the UCLA Medical Center in Westwood.
Dr. O’Donnell has hired Rader Consulting to check out the disappearance of his girlfriend Isabel Lincoln two months earlier. She took his dog, which bothers the good doctor more than the missing girl.
Grayson has her own history of escaping a toxic relationship. She has no intention of bringing Isabel back if it puts her in danger.
But the more she checks out Isabel, the odder things get. A woman, Tea Christopher, claims to be Isabel’s best friend. She tells Grayson Isabel is alive but doesn’t want to go back to Dr. O’Donnell. Isabel won’t speak to Grayson directly. Her proof-of-life photos are clearly photoshopped.
In Isabel’s condo, there is mail for someone named Elyse Miller. An insurance investigator shows up looking into a series claims for car accidents and stolen cars that Isabel has made. There are insurance policies naming Tea as beneficiary, boxes of hair dye and a memo pad with flight numbers on it.
Even as Grayson is focused on Isabel, she realizes that her own abusive, former husband Sean has found her and plans to force her back into his life.
Whatever assumptions you make in the first chapter get turned on their head with every new piece of information Grayson uncovers about Isabel. Suspense is taut in this entertaining mystery. It grows more intense as Hall reveals Grayson’s background as an abused wife and the stakes becomes clearer about what might happen if Grayson gets it wrong about telling Dr. O’Donnell where Isabel is.
L.A.-based author Rachel Howzell Hall has set this story in Westwood, downtown L.A. and other parts of the city. Her ability to describe a setting is so spot-on you can smell the exhaust and feel the frustration of waiting in traffic on the 405.
Hall’s books usually entwine several mysteries. That’s one of several reasons why this is such a spellbinding read.
Jeannette Hartman is the creator and reviewer for Starbuchs, an eclectic mix of contemporary and classic mysteries.