“See Her Die” is the second book in Melinda Leigh’s Bree Taggert series that started with “Cross Her Heart.” I had not read any of Leigh’s previous mysteries (which I plan to rectify), but I knew from the first page of the first book in this series that I was hooked. This second book is no different. While it works better to have read the first book to understand completely the family dynamics, this does work as a stand alone novel. But I enjoy seeing how relationships change and mature, so I’m glad I started the series at the beginning.
In this book, too, we are hooked from the first sentence. I taught my students that first sentences are important—they can keep a reader interested or cause them to stop reading. “The scream faded, the sound muffled through the walls of the cabin.” Well, who isn’t going to keep reading to find out who screamed, why they screamed, and why Alyssa, the teenager who heard the scream is alone in a cabin on a lake in the middle of winter? And Leigh keeps the mystery and the thrills at a level of high intensity throughout the book.
In the first book, Philadelphia homicide detective Bree Taggert goes to the town where she was born in Randolph County, in upstate New York, when her sister is killed. Now she is the sheriff of the county, and when bodies start appearing, she has to get to the bottom of it. Who is killing young men and how does Alyssa figure into it?
Leigh manages to share some of Bree’s backstory so that new readers won’t feel out of the loop. She explains that Bree’s father was extremely abusive and allowed his dogs to attack her. Finally, he killed their mother and shot himself while Bree took her younger sister and baby brother and hid under the porch until the police arrived. She is still horribly frightened by dogs, but lives with her cat, a rescue dog named Ladybug (named after Leigh’s own rescue!), her sister’s two children, and her former partner, Dana, who retired and came to live with Bree to help with the children.
There is a bit of romance in this mystery series as Bree reconnects with Matt, who was Bree’s brother-in-law’s friend, and whom she had met at their wedding. Matt was an investigator with the sheriff’s department and worked with Brody, his K-9, but both were injured in a shootout under suspicious circumstances. Matt wonders if the previous sheriff, who was corrupt, caused the accidental shooting by another deputy sheriff, Jim Rogers. Rogers acts strange around Matt, which makes him suspicious. In the first book, Matt and Bree team up to solve the mystery of her sister’s death. They also team up in this novel, and we see their relationship deepen.
Leigh creates characters who are good at heart, but flawed. We see how Bree freezes when confronted with dogs, even some who are not aggressive at all. A large barking golden retriever can incapacitate her, and a barking snarling abused pit bull will render her unable to move. Luckily, Matt not only had a K-9 dog, his sister has a dog rescue, and he knows a lot about dogs. In fact, in one scene Leigh teaches readers how to deal with an aggressive dog. (Hint: most dogs are aggressive because of fear.) Matt does exactly what dog people know to do: don’t make eye contact, don’t face the dog, crouch down, be nonthreatening. And then? What Matt does made me cry because it’s what I’ve done and what most animal rescuers would do. Shhhh. I’m not going to say what he did because it might just be illegal (it is), but it was the right thing to do.
Leigh’s strength is writing narrative that is compelling and filled with action. And that action is filled with people whom we almost instinctively care about because they are so relatable, so human, in their flaws and their emotions. I really love how she’s answered some questions from the first book about whether the deputy Rogers purposely shot Matt and Brody, and how Bree is learning how to be sheriff, the political part as well as the actual policing part. Marge, the sheriff department receptionist and “CEO,” is another great character. In fact, the characters that Leigh creates are a big reason to read this series. You’ll be thrilled by the action, of course, but you’ll want to read the next book in the series to find out what happens to the characters. I certainly will be doing exactly that.
Please note: This review is based on the final, hardcover book provided by Montlake, the publisher, for review purposes.