While “Right Behind Her” might be the fourth installment in the mystery series featuring Bree Taggert, a former Philadelphia homicide detective turned county sheriff, author Melinda Leigh masterfully manages to give readers the backstory in a manner that is natural and part of each new story. We learn about Bree’s sister’s death and that Bree has taken over caring for her niece and nephew with the help of her now-retired former police partner, Dana. They live in a farmhouse with a barn for the horses that her sister rescued from a kill pen. And now Bree has a rescue of her own, a chubby mix named Ladybug who is a nod to Leigh’s own beloved rescue with the same name.
Bree isn’t sure she’s up to the job of raising two children, one a teenager, but she’s going to give it her best shot. Bree also may not think she’s up for the job of county sheriff in terms of the political brown-nosing that is part of the job, but her honesty and her determination to get the job done have earned her the loyalty of almost all her deputies. It’s also difficult being a female sheriff in rural upstate New York and having to ask the wealthy white men on the county board for money to update her department. Their K9 unit, consisting of Matt Flynn and Brody, were injured several years previously and both retired, but Matt is working with one of his sister’s rescues, Greta, to be ready to be trained as a police K9 if they can raise the money for her training.
In the first chapter, Leigh takes us back thirty years as we witness a gruesome murder; a murder that is premeditated and includes torture. We don’t know who the perpetrator is nor who the victim is, but the whole situation is disturbing. Then Leigh shoots us forward in time to the present as Bree and her brother Adam visit the house where both lived until their father killed their mother and then shot himself. Eight-year-old Bree had taken her four-year-old sister and baby brother and hidden with them under the porch that cold winter night. Sadly, the younger two children were raised by their grandparents while Bree was sent to live with another relative in Philadelphia. She felt detached from her siblings, but now, living in Grey’s Hollow, she has felt closer to them.
She’s also growing closer to Matt, who is doing consulting work for the sheriff’s department which is sorely understaffed. He and Brody have proven invaluable to the department, and he and Bree are forming an attachment. She is reluctant to take the risk of having a relationship with all the other things on her plate at work and with her family, but Matt is rock-solid and patient. He’s not going anywhere. And he’s been a huge part of helping Bree get over her pathological fear of dogs dating back to when one of her father’s dogs attacked her viciously when she was five. In fact, Leigh does a magnificent job explaining dog behavior through Matt’s explanation to Bree as they encounter a dog running toward them at a house. You know a dog is friendly because “Its eyes are soft, and its body posture isn’t stiff. The tail is wagging in a loose and relaxed way.” He also gives her excellent advice about what not to do when meeting a strange dog. “First of all, don’t stare directly at its eyes. Dogs perceive staring as a threat. If the dog is aggressive, it won’t like it.” He goes on to explain that most dogs bite out of fear, not aggression, and signs of fear are licking the lips, shaking, averted eyes. Leigh is a knowledgable dog lover, and that comes through when she writes about dogs.
In this mystery, Adam and Bree are visiting their family farm which Adam bought for the sake of nostalgia, even though he was only a baby when their family was torn apart. He is an extremely successful artist and was also supporting his sister Erin and her family before her death. While there, they realize that someone is in the barn, and when the trespasser throws rocks at Bree and then runs, she chases and then arrests him. Turns out that he’s the brother of a wealthy investor who also sits on the county board. He’s also addicted to opioids. While searching the area, the remains of two bodies are discovered, leading Bree and the department to investigate not only the identity of the two bodies, but who killed them. Since the bodies have been there a long time—it turns out to be 30 years—the investigation is difficult. But there’s a connection to Bree since the bodies were found on her family’s farm, and she knows that her father was certainly capable of murder. So she wonders if ultimately the murders will be pinned on her father. But after aggressive questioning and the uncovering of new evidence, people possibly involved in the original murders disappear. When one of Bree’s family is threatened, she will stop at nothing to uncover the evildoer.
Leigh’s experienced writing is apparent in her ability to create a plot that enthralls, main characters that we care about, authentic dialogue, and an additional cast of people who interest us as they help Leigh develop the main characters in the series as a whole. In a good series, we end up caring about the main character, and Leigh certainly accomplishes that goal in this series. So while each book works extremely well as a stand alone mystery, you’ll find that you want to know more, know how Bree ended up in Randolph County and Grey’s Hollow, and what she’s been up to before this. I think you’ll want to know how her relationship with Matt has developed to where it is in this book, and so you’ll pick up the first book in the series, Cross Her Heart, and read all the others as well.
This review is based on the final, hardcover book provided by the publisher, Montlake, for review purposes.