I’ll admit it, the cover intrigued me (no pun intended). I’m torn between thinking it’s laughably bad or amazingly awesome, leaning a bit closer to the awesome side. I had to read this. There’s also the added bonus that it’s Herbert’s first published non-paranormal work – so color me curious.
I was addicted to the TV show Justified, and this book definitely scratched the itch left behind when that show ended. Lilah Tedder is back home on Lavender Mountain in northern Georgia after her father is murdered, shot in the back. Lilah escaped her outlaw moonshine-running family and is making a meager salary as a teacher’s aide while putting herself through school. It was on one of her visits home that she started a relationship with Harlan Sampson, a local police officer with plans to run for Sheriff. However, the Tedder name is mud and after various folks whispering in Harlan’s ear, he breaks it off with Lilah without so much as a by-your-leave. So now Lilah is back home, cleaning out her Dad’s cabin, upset that the man was murdered – oh, and she’s pregnant and has to figure out how to tell Harlan. The guy who broke up with her because of her last name.
It’s a small town with a small police force, so naturally it doesn’t take long for Harlan to come sniffing around. Well, and the fact that he can’t get Lilah out of his head. He’s really hung up on her, never mind that her family history makes things colorful for him in regards to his career ambition. The running theories are that Lilah’s Daddy was shot over a business transaction gone wrong, the man’s hot temper finally got him in trouble or he branched out from moonshine to the more lucrative, and dangerous, drug trade. Harlan soon suspects Lilah may be in danger, and when another dead body turns up? His suspicions are confirmed.
What I love about the Intrigue line is how fast-paced the stories are. They’re a bit longer than an Presents, right around a Special Edition. This also means it’s one of the lines that can be notoriously tricky to write for. The author has to pull of a romantic suspense story (which means romance AND suspense) in 55,000 words. When the author does pull it off? It’s amazing. A sublime reading experience that leaves me racing through the pages and on the edge of my seat. When the author doesn’t quite pull it off? Well, you get books like this one.
There’s some rougher edges here. Chapter transitions and breaks that aren’t always smooth. Characters who need to grovel mightily (I’m looking at you Harlan, you damn jackass) who sorta kinda do but not really (at least to my satisfaction). Angst that is mentioned but quickly brushed aside (actually this could be a good thing depending on what sort of reader you are). I enjoyed the story, but it definitely read like this was the author’s first Intrigue and she’s still finding her sea legs.
The story itself is good and the author pulls in various threads to create an interesting mystery. My only gripe here is the drug angle, which seemed quaint by today’s standards. There’s a theory that Lilah’s Daddy was shot because he branched out into the lucrative marijuana trade – and future clues lead to baggies of pot and cocaine. Look, maybe I’ve been living in California for too long (entirely possible), but there’s literally no mention of heroin or fentanyl anywhere in this book – so to have marijuana trotted out like this huge big hairy deal was jarring in the face of an opioid crisis that is sending state agencies, Georgia being no different, into a scramble. It gives the plot an out-of-step feeling for a 2018 publication.
Still, I liked the story, I liked the world-building and atmosphere, and the mystery takes some nice twists to get to the finish line. This wasn’t a perfect reading experience for me, but it kept me entertained and now I’m curious to read Lilah’s brother’s story.
Star-crossed lovers on Lavender Mountain…Danger awaits them both.
After her father’s murder, pregnant Lilah Tedder dreads facing deputy Harlan Sampson, her child’s secret father, who left her heartbroken. Though she still wants him, Lilah knows his professional ambition won’t let him associate with a moonshiner’s daughter. But when a killer targets Lilah, Harlan becomes more than her protector. Now they must uncover old family secrets or pay the ultimate price.
Other books in this series: