The people of Stillwater, Mississippi, are asking questions about murder. Again.
Twenty years ago, Madeline Barker’s father disappeared. Despite what everyone else thinks, she’s convinced her stepfamily had nothing to do with it. But the discovery of his car proves he didn’t just drive away. Worse, the police find something in his trunk that says there’s more to this case than murder.
With no other recourse, Madeline decides to hire a private investigator—even if the cops don’t like it. Even if her family doesn’t like it. But when PI Hunter Solozano begins to uncover some shocking evidence, someone in Stillwater is determined to put a stop to Madeline’s search for the truth. And that means putting a stop to her. Permanently.
This is the 3rd and final installment of Novak's Stillwater, MS trilogy. So don't start with this one.
When her father's car is found after 20 years, it's the first real sign that he met with foul play. For Madeline Barker, it means that he didn't abandon her. This is a big deal to Maddy because her own mother comitted suicide when she was 10 (or maybe 11). It also makes Maddy even more determined (if that's even possible) to find out what happened to her father. The general belief around Stillwater is that her stepfamily, the Montgomery's, killed Reverend Barker and are hiding his body somewhere at the farm where Maddy grew up. Maddy has always scoffed at these beliefs and has done whatever she can to defend the family she loves.
Though she can scarcely afford it, Maddy hires a P.I. from California to investigate. After much browbeating, Hunter Solozano arrives and is on the case. Maddy is chagrined when she realizes that she's hired a California beach bum to investigate her father's disappearance. Not to mention the attraction she feels for a man that is four years younger than her. It makes for a very uncomfortable few days. Maddy soon realizes that there is much more to Hunter than meets the eye and if anyone can find the truth, it's Hunter.
Of course as I was reading this I already knew who killed the good Reverend and why. No, I didn't figure it out on my own. It was explained in the 1st book. See, Maddy's daddy wasn't a man of the cloth. He was a vile, disgusting, hideous excuse for a human being. Not not to mention a pedophile. While the Montgomery's (Irene, stepmom-Clay, stepbrother-Grace, stepsister) knew exactly what kind of man Barker was, they have always kept the truth from Maddy. They didn't do it for any other reason that the fact that they were trying to protect her.
Novak kind of danced around the rape of Grace by the Reverend in the 1st book, but was very graphic in this last book. A suitcase is found in the back of the Reverend's car, which contains a dildo, three pairs of girls panties, and a camera. A part of me can understand Maddy's absolute denial that those are her father's things. The girl grew up believing her father was a saint. All her life people protected her from her father's true character. At the same time, her naivety was a little annoying. Sure, the suitcase could be the murderers. It could be something that he was given by a parishoner. But after little things start coming to light about her father, she's still in total denial. Borderline TSTL. Not enough to ruin the book, but enough to be noticeable.
Anyway, Barker's partner in crime is still alive and getting nervous about the extra attention the case is receiving. So what does he do? Like the brainbox he is, he starts sending Maddy gifts. He breaks into her house. He calls her. Then he decides to kidnap her. His reasoning? Barker used his daughter, but refused to let him use Maddy. Pay back is a bitch. Even if the person is dead.
I really thought this was a suitable ending for Stillwater. Obviously Hunter helped Maddy resolve her abandonment issues. We also got glimpses into Clay and Allie's marriage (book 2), which was "awww" inducing. I did feel bad for Irene, who was only trying to protect her children. She married Reverend Barker thinking she had found sanctuary for her and her children. Instead she took them straight into a nightmare.
Novak does a terrific job of cultivating the relationships between the characters. It really came through the pages how the Montgomery's were determined to protect Madeline. The ending was a good one, if a bit rushed.
If you haven't read this series, run out right now and buy it.
4 out of 5 stars.