review: bitter reckoning

Bitter Reckoning by Heather Graham (2018)

You know how you read a book by a prolific writer, and you think to yourself: Self, this book just doesn’t feel like it was written by the same person who wrote the other books in this series I love so much. Yeah, that feeling. Moving on.

Bitter Reckoning is (technically) the sixth book in the Cafferty & Quinn series, which you will likely find in the mystery or suspense category of your favorite bookstore (don’t be fooled—the main characters are in a committed, loving relationship, but these books aren’t romance novels). If you haven’t stumbled upon this series yet, please find the first book, Let the Dead Sleep (and if you’re on a book budget like me, you’ll be glad to know that this book is available through my local library in both physical and e-book format). Furthermore, I don’t want to bury the lede here. Let the Dead Sleep, Wake the Dead, and The Dead Play On are the primary books in this series. If you haven’t read any of these books, focus on those three and then if you feel like you must, you can read the…off-shoots. If you have read the first three books in this series, well, maybe you want to stop there.

But you see the thing is, I love Cafferty and Quinn as characters, and that’s why I couldn’t stop myself from picking up Bitter Reckoning (plus, as of this writing, it’s available in Kindle Unlimited, so really, how was I supposed to resist?). I’m not necessarily sorry that I read this book. I’m sorry that it’s not up to the same standard as the first three books featuring these two characters.

Bitter Reckoning finds Danni Cafferty and Michael Quinn on vacation at the Honeywell Lodge, a couple of hours from their home in the French Quarter of New Orleans. But, we only find them after a (much too long) prologue setting up the central plot of the novel, in which Ally Caldwell is on her way to the Honeywell Lodge but instead ends up in an old cemetery where she meets a gruesome end. Once Danni and Quinn finally enter the story, they are sitting by the pool relaxing, but what is supposed to be a romantic vacation getaway quickly turns into work when they are approached by Peter Ellsworth, a local Parish police officer and Jake LaRue, a friend of Danni and Quinn’s and a homicide detective for the N.O.P.D.  The two men ask for Danni and Quinn’s help in investigating Ally Caldwell’s murder because the crime itself falls into the “weird” category, a category that Danni and Quinn specialize in. They both agree to investigate, and as readers we are plunged into the search for the killer and a talisman that, according to legends, will evoke the violent and homicidal tendencies of the wearer. There is no shortage of suspects, as the Honeywell Lodge is the concept of Colleen Rankin, who has created several dating sites but insists upon people meeting in person to determine if there’s real chemistry, which she says can’t really be discovered through online interactions. Colleen was Ally’s boss, and a contingent of Colleen’s senior staff is on site at the Lodge since it is the week of their grand opening.  In the wake of Ally’s death, they all become suspects, along with the local wealthy landowner, Trent Anderson, and the good Samaritan who was the last person to see Ally alive. The mystery itself is constructed well, though I will admit I did figure out the puzzle before the final reveal at the end of the novel.

I’d say that the cast of suspects is also interesting in their own way, but perhaps even more so is the world they inhabit.  What we’re given is the executive staff of a dating site that presents its sole focus as helping its subscribers to find lasting love matches and relationships, but they are far from idealistic souls who believe in true love themselves. Further still, whether or not the author intended it, the fictional representation of the online dating world makes a reader think twice about how they engage with dating sites (or if they even want to engage with them). Though the intention isn’t to deliver a cautionary tale (at least on the surface), it can from a certain perspective be read as such.

And though the author gets the general tone of Danni and Quinn right, there’s just something missing, and whatever it is fails to bring the characters to life the way they are in the primary books of the series. Possibly this can be attributed to the way they are mostly separated throughout the story. This isn’t new by any means; at the same time, I want more interaction between them as they figure out the puzzle, find the artifact, and restore their world to its proper order.

Bitter Reckoning is an okay read, but if you’re looking for a Cafferty & Quinn fix after having read Let the Dead Sleep, Wake the Dead, and The Dead Play On, you’re likely to leave this latest entry feeling unsatisfied.

Have you read Bitter Reckoning? What did you think?

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