Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Murder Gone Cold

Murder Gone Cold
by B.J. Daniels
Recommended Ages: 14+

James Dean Colt is back in town, Stetson hat and all, recovering from injuries earned on the rodeo circuit. The first thing he finds is the burned wreckage of the trailer that he left his last girlfriend staying in, out on the ranch he co-owns with his three bronco-riding brothers. Turns out the girlfriend rented it out to some meth cookers and they blew it up. The second thing he finds is an unfinished case, left open on his father's desk in the late private investigator's office downtown, where James goes looking for a backup place to rest and heal. Intrigued by a sense that the old man was close to solving the hit-and-run death of a child at the time of his own death nine years ago, James applies for a P.I. license and reopens his dad's last case. The third thing he finds is a whole lotta pushback to the kid's murder being reopened, from the crooked town sheriff and his even crookeder, sheriffer brother to the tightly-wound yet strangely sexy woman running the sandwich shop next door.

Lorelei, as said sexy sandwich purveyor calls herself – James calls her Lori – can't make up her mind whether she loves him or loathes him, and it's been that way since high school. She's always thought of him as a reckless ladies' man, never suspecting that he's always had a crush on her, too. And lately, he's been bitten by a strange urge to settle down and start a family. Torn between solving the case quick and getting back out on the broncs, James follows up on his dad's leads and finds himself getting in deeper and deeper trouble. Lorelei's stepmother has a secret life that she's hot to protect, and it involves not only a philandering U.S. senator but also the father of the dead boy. The ex-sheriff also has secrets to cover up, and may not be above a little arson, attempted murder and planting incriminating evidence on the Colt brothers' land. And then again, members of a construction crew working in the area where the boy's body was found seem to be tied in with the crime in various ways, including one guy who turns up shot to death when James goes out to see him. There somehow seems to be more people carrying a bad conscience away from the kid's death than could possibly have been responsible for it – and thereby hangs a red herring or two.

It's a short, quickly read mystery that surprisingly (this being the first Harlequin title I've ever read, to my knowledge) doesn't lean too hard on the romance. In fact, it's downright chaste; it wouldn't have to change much to air on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries. In its favor, I'll say that it sketches in several multi-faceted and interesting characters, presents a real puzzle of a case, and depicts a heartwarming love story between two people who must decide whether they are ready to alter their entire way of life before they can turn toward each other. The vision both James and Lorelei have of a little girl not yet born is a plot device that really grabs the reader's heart. On the not-so-positive side, apart from the shooting death that most likely wasn't connected with the case and the final, climactic ramp-up, I felt this book held back from putting its characters in as much jeopardy as it could have, and even walked back some potential peril without letting it pay off. In short, it felt a little too safe. Nonetheless, it had charms, the small-town Montana setting among them, and I'd definitely give further installments a chance.

This is the first of (so far) three "Colt Brothers Investigation" novels, whose sequels Sticking to Her Guns and Christmas Ransom are due for release on May 24, 2022 and Nov. 29, 2022 respectively. Sometime newspaper writer B.J. Daniels is also the author of about 19 other series of Montana-based mystery-romance-thrillers, as well as about 11 standalone novels, many of them (like this book) published under the Harlequin Intrigue imprint – which, if this book is typical, means low-priced, lightweight, PG-rated tales of love and crime in the American west.

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