The Drowned Girls is the first book in Loreth Anne White’s new series of romantic suspense novels featuring Angie Pallorino, a detective with the Metro Victoria PD Sex Crimes Unit. Angie is abrasive, stubborn, driven and hot-tempered; she’s not a good team player and isn’t always an easy heroine to like, but there’s no questioning her commitment to her job or her desire to make a difference to the lives of some of the most vulnerable in society. This is a fast-paced, multi-layered story in which the author doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to the descriptions of the abuse suffered by or damage inflicted upon the its victims, so you might want to take that into consideration before deciding to make this your next listen.
Angie has worked Sex Crimes for the past six years and is now angling for a prestigious promotion to Homicide. She’s had the training, completed the courses, but her application has stalled because she has yet to complete a psychological evaluation following the death of her partner some months earlier. In spite of her eagerness to join Homicide, there’s a reason Angie is reluctant to undergo the psych eval. She’s on the verge of a breakdown; six years in Sex Crimes, the guilt over her partner’s death and the child they couldn’t save, the worry over the deterioration of her mother’s health from a condition Angie could have inherited … she’s barely hanging on, has to fight every day to contain her anger and aggression, and has developed a coping mechanism whereby her need to maintain control sees her picking up guys for anonymous sex at a club outside of town.
Angie and her new partner have caught a case which bears many similarities to one that Angie worked a few years earlier, in which the victims were sexually assaulted at knife-point and had a crucifix drawn onto their foreheads with a red marker. But now it seems the assailant is escalating, because the latest victim has not only been assaulted, she has been mutilated and the crucifix has been carved into her forehead. When another body is found, this time wrapped in polythene, dumped in the river, and bearing the same mutilations, the hunt for a serial rapist turns into the hunt for a serial killer – and one who, from all the signs, is likely to kill again soon.
Sergeant James Maddocks, formerly of the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) has just arrived in order to take up a position in the Victoria PD Homicide division. His marriage has broken down due to the pressure put on it by his job and his wife is suing for divorce; but he wants to be a better dad to his daughter who is a student at the local university and has taken a job which is a step backwards for him career-wise in order to be near her. He has to hit the ground running when he is assigned as lead detective on the case of the body from the river, and as if that wasn’t enough, he discovers that the woman who picked him up and screwed his brains out the night before has been seconded to his task force and is his temporary partner.
Angie can’t believe her bad luck; how can she work with someone who knows something so personal about her and who must suspect she’s screwed up? Fortunately, Maddocks quickly proves himself to be a good guy; he agrees with her that they should just put their encounter behind them and concentrate on the case, but the problem is that neither of them can forget it or ignore the intense attraction that burns between them that just won’t go away. For Angie, this is a huge problem. She has rules, lines she doesn’t cross when it comes to sex – and with Maddocks, she’s broken and crossed all of them. She also realises he’s someone she could come to care for – and that scares the hell out of her.
I like my romantic suspense to have a good balance between those two elements, and the author definitely achieves that here. It’s a densely plotted book, but not overly so; Loreth Anne White does a great job of pulling together the disparate elements of her tale, weaving together an intriguing and engrossing story encompassing political corruption, a rogue reporter and a sex-trafficking ring while also exploring the gender politics inherent in the male-dominated field of law enforcement and the misogyny Angie encounters on a daily basis.
Adding to her personal concerns, Angie’s father has just had her mother committed to a psychiatric care home because he can no longer care for her, and Angie is not only guilty at not having spent much time with her parents in recent years, but also worries that perhaps the condition that has affected her mother is beginning to affect her, too. She has started seeing visions of a little girl in a pink dress and hearing voices shouting at her in a foreign language she learns is Polish – but her family is of Italian descent and she doesn’t speak or understand Polish.
While the main suspense plot is wrapped up by the end of the novel, there are clearly secrets to be uncovered and truths to be revealed, and Angie’s personal journey is as compelling as the mystery storyline. This, together with her developing relationship with Maddocks, will, I assume, be continued throughout the series, as we leave Angie at the end of this book with more questions than she has answers and facing an uncertain future, professionally.
I listened to Julie McKay earlier this year when she performed a dual narration with Dara Rosenberg in Beatriz William’s The Wicked City. I enjoyed listening to her in that audio, so was pleased to be able to listen to her again, although here, of course, she’s flying solo. Her delivery is accomplished and confident, and her pacing and diction are very good, although I had a little trouble adjusting to certain aspects of her accent; for example a word like “him” comes out almost as “ham” or “think” almost as “thank”, and sometimes she drags out the endings of certain words. As those things were also present in her performance in The Wicked City, these are obviously characteristics of her natural accent, and once I’d got used to them, it was fine. Her voice falls naturally into the mezzo/contralto range, which means she is able to sustain a lower pitch to portray male characters without sounding as though she is straining or uncomfortable, and for the most part, she differentiates well, although some of the men sounded very similar. For example, Maddocks and Angie’s former professor and mentor, Alex Strauss, sound the same, although fortunately they don’t appear in any scenes together. That said, there are a fairly large number of male speaking-parts in this book (eight or ten, I think?) and I imagine most male narrators would be hard-pushed to find different tones and timbres for all of them, let alone for a female narrator to do the same. On the plus side, though, I enjoyed her portrayal of the rather ebullient Holgerson, Angie’s current partner, and her interpretations of all the female characters work well and are all clearly distinct from each other. The best thing about her performance as a whole is her vocal acting; she’s an excellent actress and injects her performance with the great deal of expression and appropriate emotional nuance.
I’m looking forward to book two in the series (which comes out in November) and confidently recommend The Drowning Girls to fans of romantic suspense.
TITLE: The Drowned Girls
AUTHOR: Loreth Anne White
NARRATED BY: Julie McKay
GENRE: Romantic Suspense
STEAM FACTOR: Glad I had my earbuds in
REVIEWER: CazBuy The Drowned Girls by Loreth Anne White on Amazon EXCERPT: