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Tuesday, June 9, 2020

BOOK REVIEW + EXCERPT: Flowers on Her Grave by Jennifer Chase (Crime Thriller)


Flowers on Her Grave
Detective Katie Scott #3
by
Jennifer Chase

Genre: Crime Thriller
Publisher:  Bookouture
Date of Publication:  March 28, 2020
Number of Pages: 328






On the floor, amongst the piles of freshly pressed laundry, lay the woman’s lifeless body, her pale yellow nightdress soaked in blood. “I didn’t do it…” came a whisper from the corner of the room.

Detective Katie Scott has never seen two people more in love than her aunt and uncle as they danced on the decking the night of their wedding anniversary party. But the next morning, when Katie finds her aunt’s body sprawled across the floor, that perfect image is shattered forever.

All fingers point to Katie’s uncle, Pine Valley’s beloved sheriff and protector – after all, his prints are all over the antique knife found at the scene. Grieving, but certain of her uncle’s innocence, Katie is consigned to the cold case division after she’s discovered searching the house for clues. Does someone want to keep her as far away from this investigation as possible?

Ignoring warnings from her team, Katie digs into her uncle’s old case files and discovers photographs of the body of a young girl found tied to a tree after a hike in search of a rare flower. Her body is covered with the same unusual lacerations her aunt suffered. Katie knows it can’t be a coincidence, but every lead she follows takes her to a dead end.

Moments before the sheriff is arrested, Katie realizes that a single piece of thread she found at the crime scene could be the missing link that will stitch old crimes to new. But how can she prove her uncle’s innocence without throwing herself directly into the line of fire? She doesn’t have a choice, he’s the only family she has left…

PROLOGUE

Stepping from the main hiking trail, the park ranger took a moment in the shade to catch his breath and stomp the caked dirt from his hiking boots before beginning his search of the camping ground. Just as he was finishing the last dregs of his water, the static from his walkie-talkie interrupted the quiet of the forest around him.
“Rob, are you there yet? Over.”
Pressing the button, he replied. “Just got here. Over.”
“See anything? Over.”
Looking around the campsite, he saw a pot with remnants of soup, two bottles of water, and a blue tent. Everything looked normal, until he saw some blue shreds of fabric tangled in the low-lying bushes. Curious, he walked over to them, leaned down, and pulled one of the long pieces of fabric out of the brush between his fingers. Something dark spattered the end of the fabric.
“Rob? You there? Over,” headquarters asked again.
“I’ll get back to you. Over,” he said securing the walkie-talkie to his belt.
“10-4. Over and out.” And then the radio went quiet.
Rob turned, searching the nearby area. “Hello?” he called out. “Hello?” he said again—this time louder. “Cynthia? Cynthia Andrews?”
No response.
Rob scanned every tree and bush within the vicinity, but there was no sign of the missing grad student. Perhaps the girl’s family was right to be concerned that she hadn’t contacted them in several days.
He let out a sigh and watched as a light breeze swirled dust clouds on the dry earth in the distance. And that’s when he saw it. The shredded remains of a tent. His first thought was a bear attack, but few inhabited this area. His hand twitched at the gun in his holster, readying himself for what, or who, he was about to encounter as he approached.
Camping gear was scattered around the area: a large canteen lying on its side; two extra gallons of water; several packets of freeze-dried foods; a small skillet and a boiling pot. Ten feet away there was an open journal lying next to a pink hoodie. He pulled out a small digital camera and took several photos to see if Cynthia’s family recognized anything as hers—if it came to that. He’d watched enough forensic shows to understand documentation was extremely important for any type of search or investigation.
Reaching for the sweatshirt he flipped it over to find one of the sleeves stained with dark blood, almost brown in color. He dropped the garment on the ground in horror as the forest closed in and a flock of birds burst from the trees above him.
Eyes darting, he noticed large heavy footprints moving north accompanied by a set of smaller, barefoot prints heading in the same direction, as one followed the other—or chased.
He felt the hair rise on the back of his neck and down his arms as he followed the trail through clustered pine trees. Deep into the woodland the footprints disappeared, replaced by divots and drag marks, the obvious signs of a struggle in the dirt.
Where did they go?
The wind, picking up, whipped and whispered through the trees forcing a shower of pine needles and cones to drop around him. He spied an area where small branches had been broken and followed the trail into a clearing where he was surprised to find ropes tied around a large tree trunk in unusual knots.
Slowly, filled with dread, he walked around the tree.
What he saw on the other side would be burned into his memory forever, he thought. The excessive violence. The horrifying, gaping wounds. The terror in her glassy eyes. It took every ounce of strength he had to take in the devastating scene before him.
The young woman, barely clothed in a workout t-shirt that read “No Pain, No Gain” and a pair of panties, had been bound to the tree with ropes across her chest, hips, and thighs. Her arms were fixed above her head, which now flopped forward limply. In between the restraints were wounds, huge slices down each side of her stomach, allowing her intestines to spill out. It was unclear if the wounds were caused by her killer or wild animals. Chunks of her thighs and calves were missing.
Rob stepped back as her hair stirred in the wind and stuck against her face, caught in her slightly open mouth. He ran back to the original base camp and fumbled for his radio. “Dispatch, we need the police up at the first camp area from Dodge Ridge as soon as possible. We have… there’s a…” he couldn’t find the words. He cleared his throat and tried it again, “Dispatch, we have a dead body.”








Detective Katie Scott returns in this third installment as the newly appointed head of the cold case unit within the Pine Valley Sheriff's Office and she definitely has her work cut out for her! Following the murder of her aunt and with all fingers pointing to her uncle, Katie begins to piece together the clues that may not only vindicate him, but might also finally close the unsolved murder of a young woman. 

Suffering from anxiety, PTSD, and panic attacks, this book brought fresh perspectives to Katie's life as it built and added to her story as a veteran working in a high stress law enforcement position. She is still reeling from her time as a soldier and learning to adapt in a post-war environment. I greatly appreciated the insight into how Katie is working through her triggers with the use of professional therapy and seeking help from trusted friends. She is beginning to understand how important it is to ask for assistance, and that in doing so, she is not weak or a burden. Unlike the previous books, this one did not fill in the blanks as well for readers just entering the series, so I would definitely recommend starting with the first book to completely understand everything that is going on. 

While I have consistently felt that Katie is an incredibly well developed character throughout this series, I will say that this book showcased just how detrimental her headstrong nature can be. She has never made apologies for how impetuous she is, but now she often came across as more of a rogue agent, blinded to anything other than finding her aunt's true killer and saving her uncle's reputation. Looking at the entire series as a whole though, she continues to be likeable and just vulnerable enough to make her more relatable to readers. Having served in the military myself as well as dealing with my own diagnoses of anxiety and PTSD, I greatly appreciated the level of authenticity presented throughout the story. There was never a moment when I didn't believe or empathize with Katie's struggles to cope with her previous experiences. Her emotions are so honestly expressed that readers regardless of their own experiences and emotions surrounding trauma can't help but empathize with her circumstances and condition.

I cannot stress enough in my reviews that Katie's character is a testament to the author's level of research and the advisers she consulted in creating an authentic work of fiction that could be enjoyed by laymen. You don't have to have a background in criminology to recognize how well written these stories are.  Additionally, Katie's character provides the strong representation that service members and law enforcement officials greatly appreciate seeing reflected across all media formats. 

Fast-paced chapters keep the tension and suspense mounting until the very unexpected end. This series continues to be a great example of what a compelling police procedural should be! The plot grabs your attention, but the author's deft storytelling keeps the pages flying! I will say however that this time around when the dialogue and interactions between characters moved into friendly banter within scenes far removed from any criminal activity, it felt contrived and awkward. 

Katie's work in the Army as an explosives detection dog handler allowed her to bring her retired dog, Cisco, to the department as her canine partner. I felt the previous books displayed their bond better, but this one provided more understanding into the work that he now does for the Sheriff's office and more information on his continued training. Regardless, their connection is undeniably beautiful to read about and highlights the exceptional and important work dogs provide to humans.

I continue to be such a fan of how the author uses her experience with criminal behavior to craft such compelling cases and characters from aspects of both the investigative and criminal sides of law enforcement. She masterfully captures the realism that only someone with so much insight in the field would be able to express. The use of forensics and profiling make this a riveting read that will satisfy any fan of true crime or crime thrillers. Her books are completely underrated and an absolute steal for the quality of writing she delivers every time!

Detective Scott is a force to be reckoned with that's for sure, and I certainly hope we haven't seen the final chapter.

Many thanks to Pump Up Your Book Blog Tours and the author for providing me with a copy of this book for free. This is my honest and thoughtful review.




Jennifer Chase is a multi award-winning and best-selling crime fiction author, as well as a consulting criminologist. Jennifer holds a bachelor degree in police forensics and a master's degree in criminology & criminal justice. These academic pursuits developed out of her curiosity about the criminal mind as well as from her own experience with a violent psychopath, providing Jennifer with deep personal investment in every story she tells. In addition, she holds certifications in serial crime and criminal profiling.  She is an affiliate member of the International Association of Forensic Criminologists, and member of the International Thriller Writers. 





Many thanks to Pump Up Your Book Blog Tours and the author for providing me with a copy of the book! It was a pleasure reading, reviewing, and hosting! And be sure to check out the other stops on the tour for more opinions and extras!






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