Saturday, March 10, 2018

ARC Review: Under the Shadows by Gwen Florio

Under the Shadows
Author: Gwen Florio
Series: A Lola Wicks Mystery (Book 5)
Publication: Midnight Ink (March 8, 2018)

Description: A story assignment becomes a murder investigation for troubled journalist Lola Wicks

Lola Wicks is in bad shape. A family tragedy has nearly flattened her in a way that her years reporting from war zones never did. Her friends, alarmed by signs that Lola is in the grip of a destructive addiction, hope that a freelance assignment will get her back on her feet. The threat of having her child removed persuades Lola to head for Salt Lake City on a puff piece about overseas adoptions. But the story takes a dark turn when the teenager at the center of her story lands in jail facing a murder charge. Setting out to prove the youth's innocence takes Lola to her own dark place, and she's not sure if she'll ever be able to find her way back.

My Thoughts: Former foreign correspondent and now resident of Montana, Lolo Wicks is suffering from a deep depression after the death of her husband Charlie. She is taking pills to help her sleep, ignoring her responsibilities to her job, and ignoring her eight-year-old daughter. It takes the threat of having her child removed from her care and the intervention of the aunties - Charlie's relatives from the reservation - to begin her road to recovery.

Lola is sent to Salt Lake City to do what she considers a puff piece on the topic of adoption among the members of the Church of the Latter Day Saints -- the Mormons. Lola couldn't be less interested but it does get her away from the social worker who wants to meet with her. She learns when she arrives that the family she had come to interview was in the middle of a tragedy. Frank Shumway, adopted as a ten-year-old from Viet Nam and now an eighteen-year-old hockey star, is accused of killing the mother of his fiance, Sariah Ballard.

The Shumways and the Ballards were life-long best friends and next door neighbors. Frank, known by his friends as by his original name of Trang, and the Ballard kids - Kwesi who was adopted from Ghana and Tynslee - were all friends. Another friend is Malachi who is the son of the Donovan Munro, the editor who has sent her out on this story.

Gradually, Lola gets sucked into the drama surrounding the mystery. Tynslee is sure that Trang didn't kill her mother. The more she investigates, the more she learns that places his guilt in question. A lot of the mystery centers around what the Saints believe and the lifestyle they live. When Sariah's body is discovered by Bryce Shumway, his first call is to his Bishop instead of to the police. Lola is appalled at how the crime scene evidence is so compromised by the Elders tromping through the scene before the police are called. The Shumways are slow to get Trang a lawyer, also on the advice of the Elders.

Competing for front page news on the murder is the latest ruling from the church about a total lack of acceptance for gays and a total intolerance for sex among unmarried people. Tynslee and Trang have trashed their chances for a Temple wedding and Trang can no longer go on his mission trip because they are no longer "pure." Since Trang's trip was supposed to take him back to Viet Nam to find out what happened to the sister he had to leave behind, the kids were conspiring to raise the money to sent him to Viet Nam anyway.

The story filled with secrets that someone would and did kill to keep. As Lola unravels the mystery and becomes engaged in the story, she begins to recover from her profound grief at the loss of her husband. She manages to take some baby steps along the road to recovery. 

This was a well-written mystery with remarkably engaging characters. While I was uncomfortable with the concept that Lola's depression was so deep that she was neglecting her child, I could understand the depth of her grief. I loved her support system in Montana and her final realization that family was a broader concept than she had thought. I am eager, now, to go back and read the earlier books in this series to find out more about Lola.

Favorite Quote:
Their voices reached her from a great distance, distorted; their demands -- that she rise every day, dress, care for her daughter, go to work -- unreasonable. The only possible response: "But Charlie is dead."

The longing to join him dragged at her, the means everywhere -- from the paring knife in the kitchen drawer to the sturdy lead rope dangling from its hood in the horse's shed, just the right length to drape over a rafter.
I received this one in exchange for an honest review from NetGalley. You can buy your copy here.

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