Salt Island
by Lisa Towles
Indies United Publishing House

"It belonged to his father, had scratches all over its face, the second hand was stuck on the number three, and sometimes I wore it to bed. Comfort comes in strange packages."

Mari Ellwyn and Derek Abernathy are partners and private investigators in California. While Derek is focused on the deaths of two farm workers in a small town, Mari takes on a case from a former close college friend involving a multi-million-dollar IPO. However, Mari is also working on the personal mystery of her father, a missing CIA operative. Although he is presumed dead, she has received clues that lead her to believe he may be alive and in the British Virgin Islands.

Following her leads, she meets an enigmatic woman and a possible connection to her father as a painter under a different name. Before she has much time to investigate on Tortola Island, she is informed her mother has had a stroke and rushes back to California. Her case gets complicated as the social media influencer who heads the company about to go public is shot. In the meantime, her partner goes nearly silent as he heads to investigate the farm deaths. Mari gets a harsh warning that she needs to get her partner out of that case before something bad happens. As the danger increases and the stakes get higher, Mari and Derek begin to see connections to their cases, and Mari even finds a string leading to her father and a would-be assassin from her past.

Towles’ heroine is a likable and capable character surrounded by interesting and connected friends and contacts. Her personality is defined through little quirks and preferences, as well as through the ways she interacts with her primarily male colleagues, her missing father, and her reserved mother. Readers familiar with the genre will recognize similarities with Stephanie Plum, from Janet Evanovich’s long-running series as well as Kinsey Millhone from Sue Grafton’s Alphabet series. Each of these heroines shines in their author’s character-driven mysteries where the stories and relationships take precedence over the clues and forensic science. Towles links events from previous books and the continuing mystery of Mari’s father, as well as the burgeoning mystery of her mother and the man with whom she leaves the hospital, creating a continuity for the series as well as establishing expectations and excitement for the next book.

Towles has a clear understanding of her genre and niche within it and writes with confidence. Her narrative is well-paced and should keep readers turning pages and trying to get in just one more chapter before setting the book aside. Her cast of characters includes associates with all the necessary skills Mari will need to lean on as a private investigator as well as enough romantic tension and interesting personalities to help them come alive on the page. There were a couple of times when the criminal’s behavior seemed to wait for the protagonists to get prepared, as well as moments when the varying pulls on the heroine’s emotional state would result in somewhat muted or one-dimensional responses. However, the overall quality and appeal of this book should result in a broad audience and help establish Towles as an author to read for anyone interested in the crime thriller genre.

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