Next of Kin is the first in Sala’s Rebel Ridge series. It’s a romantic suspense that pits organized crime against a rural Kentucky clan with a sort of ramped up Deliverance with PTSD feel. Beth Venable was whisked away from Rebel Ridge by her parents a decade earlier in the wake of a scandal. Now her parents are dead, and her life as an adult is centered in Los Angeles, her mountain kin left in her past. An unfortunate set of circumstances puts Beth in FBI protective custody, but Ike Pappas, the crime boss she witnessed murdering his ex-wife, manages to breach the protection time after time, until Beth escapes back to her kinfolk.
Being a close knit community with deep roots, almost everyone is kin here, and the Walkers are very distant cousins of Beth’s mother. Before Beth left Rebel Ridge a decade earlier, she and Ryal Walker were falling in love as teens, but hadn’t communicated since. Her escape back to Rebel Ridge puts her back in Ryal’s life.
The action and suspense are almost non-stop, with a few breaks for Beth and Ryal to fall back in love. Ryal’s brother Quinn, hero of the next book in the series, rallies the mountain kin into a formidable army with special ops skills by honing their mountain survival tactics. When Pappas sends his top-of-the-line killers out to best these yokels, the real nail-biting action takes place, and I heard the dueling banjos from Deliverance playing in my head.
Kathe Mazur was perfection personified in this reading. Most of her narrative and dialogue is done in a soft, almost mesmerizing tone, but she has the chops to bark out scenes where more force is needed. Her characters have just enough rural or urban in them to relay their backgrounds without ever going near the edge. Even when Sala writes in Kentucky jargon, Mazur doesn’t make them sound like hicks – all the characters have, and better yet, sound like they have brains and motive; no 2 dimensional b-b-b-bad to the bone or Darwin Award candidates here. When Beth faces down her nightmare at the end, I was fist-pumping and cheering, well, in my head because the folks at the gym didn’t need to be disturbed.
Now I’m wondering, how did I not know about this excellent pairing before the Audies brought the second in the series, Don’t Cry for Me, to my attention? So now I’m on a campaign – if you like the RS genre, contemporary romance with action, you need to get on the bandwagon and grab this series! I’m off to download the third entry. ‘Til Death, one and maybe start a Sala glom.
(PS: Sala’s other audios are not voiced by Kathe Mazur. In fact some of them are read by narrators on my personal never-again list, while others are new-to-me. Stay tuned… I might be reading these books in print.)
Book Content: A+
Steam Factor: Glad I had my earbuds in
Violence: Escalated and graphic fighting, domestic violence – a little of everything except torture, so if you don’t want to hear about the gore, this might go past your boundaries
Genre: Romantic Suspense
Publisher: Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.