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Review: Hidden Victims by LynDee Walker

Hidden Victims (Nichelle Clarke Crime Thriller #8)
LynDee Walker
Severn River Publishing
2020, 338p
Copy courtesy of the author/publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

A letter from a dead man catapults Nichelle Clarke into the biggest story of her career…if she can stay alive long enough to report it.

Nichelle Clarke needs a big break.

With a new job and a new boss, she’s under pressure to find a story that will send papers flying off the racks—and money flying in the door.

When she learns that the widow of a beloved athlete is entangled in the opioid crisis, Nichelle sets out to track her down. But the story takes a turn when her interview prospect becomes a suspect—for murder.

Detectives have found a dead body, along with a letter addressed to Nichelle. Determined to uncover the truth, she jumps into the race to find the killer—even as it turns into a police manhunt for the now-missing widow. But this story leads Nichelle deep into a mystery where nothing is what it seems, and the truth behind a brutal murder is just the beginning.

A murder mystery series taut with gripping, authentic plots that only a former crime reporter could write.

***Please note there are some things in this review that would be regarded as ***SPOILERS*** for the events of previous books***

I really enjoy this series and am always excited for a new instalment. This one represents a time of extreme change in Nichelle’s life. After a few books of her struggling to find a place of harmony with the “big boss” at the daily newspaper where she worked, Nichelle and Bob both left to join a rival start up. Fast forward a few months and it’s been mixed. It’s not a daily which means that Nichelle is always behind Shelby (who now has her old job) and TV for scoops. She’s lost her mojo and her new boss Evan Connally isn’t as happy as he could be. Advertising is down and the lower it is, the fewer pages they can print. He might be wealthy but he’s also looking to make money. He needs Nichelle to find a story that is quintessentially what she’s become known for – gritty, exclusive and hard hitting. That’s a little hard to do when everyone else beats you to publication. And Nichelle knows that she’s not at her best. Enter Jordan Pierce, a marketing guru hired to bring in the dollars and he’s not afraid to tell Nichelle that what she’s following has no clicks….he hasn’t met Nichelle before though, so telling her not to do something is basically pointless.

Around the same time she changed jobs, Joey, Nichelle’s lover with “connections” made a decision so that they might have a future and for now, he’s essentially lost to her. Nichelle has no idea where he is or even if he’s okay. What he’s doing is incredibly dangerous and she’s well aware of the fact that she may never see him again. It makes it hard to concentrate and she must keep up a role-play that he dumped her and disappeared, so that she’s safe and people are thrown off the scent. She’s also incredibly mad at Kyle, her friend and ex, for lying to her. In short, Nichelle has lost several of the people she cared about the most and also her “sounding boards” when she needed to figure stuff out.

A chance ride-a-long with a cop through the drug shanty town in Richmond, Virginia provides an answer to the question that Nichelle and her new boss have been looking for, when she and Officer Brooks discover one of the residents dead via an execution style gunshot to the head. Why would someone want to execute this man? Nichelle’s senses are tingling and this is exactly the sort of story she needs to feel like herself again, if she can just get the powers that be in her new job to trust her and let her follow her instincts.

This was such a ride. It starts with Nichelle’s grief and frustration – everything is kind of going wrong for her, she’s alone and feeling isolated and the dream new job is something she’s starting to struggle with. I was really intrigued by the ride-a-long she goes on with a young, idealistic cop who has ideas about change in terms of drug addiction. This book looks at America’s opioid addiction in a sympathetic light, which is a fascinating but also incredibly tragic thing. I’ve seen pieces that people like John Oliver have done on it, particularly the pharmaceutical companies. Despite being a pretty seasoned crime reporter, even Nichelle is shocked by what she sees in the shanty town type thing, and it showcases some examples of how people fell into desperate drug addictions – even people who were well educated, with good jobs and families. Anyone could end up in this situation and I think a lot of that is what Nichelle wants to tell. She wants to humanise the addicts for her readers, make them see them for the people they are, not just as addicts who have ended up in a hopeless situation. It made me really interested in the origins of the crisis, so I started looking for some non-fiction books to read on the topic and discovered that there is plenty out there.

This was an excellent instalment to this series. Once Nichelle gets her idea, she’s off and running, researching and piecing things together meticulously, stumbling on information that suddenly makes everything seem so much bigger, so much more important. It’s not just about the death of an addict anymore, it’s about what he knew – and what he was going to reveal. I did not expect a lot of the twists but they shouldn’t be a surprise in a Nichelle Clarke book! The ties back to a certain missing someone were interesting too, as was puzzling out who exactly was “dirty” – there are numerous suspects, the possibility brought to Nichelle by her old friend, Aaron White. I also liked the realisation by Shelby that Nichelle’s job wasn’t as easy as it sounded and that to get the scoop, a lot of the times Nichelle was putting herself in danger and this case was really no exception, especially when she figured out the danger someone was in.

I enjoyed all facets of this – the look at the opioid crisis and how so many people were affected, Nichelle’s struggles with her new job not working a daily and being a victim of the 24 hour news cycle, her desire for freedom in choosing her pieces and trying to get people to trust her in her ability to find a good story and execute it. Nichelle is a people person, she manages to forge connections with lots of people and it’s part of the reason she gets the information she requires. She’s personable but also tough. I liked the ending as well….it’s a little bit of a positive vibe for the future. I do hope there’ll be another one.

9/10

Book #88 of 2020

 

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Review: Deadly Politics by LynDee Walker

Deadly Politics (Nichelle Clarke #7)
LynDee Walker
Severn River Publishing
2019, 382p
Copy courtesy of the author

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Reporter Nichelle Clarke’s dream of covering a presidential speech is dashed when she finds herself intertwined in a high-profile murder investigation. While Nichelle is no stranger to facing dangerous situations in pursuit of the truth, the stakes in this story are higher than ever before.

Unsure of who she can trust, Nichelle must unravel a web of secrets behind an elaborate murder plot and dodge legal traps set by corrupt politicians. For if Nichelle can’t uncover the conspiracy in time, an unthinkable disaster will strike the nation.

Okay, I knew it’d been a while, but apparently it’s been 2.5 years since the previous Nichelle Clarke book (then titled the Headlines in High Heels Mysteries). Since then, the author has acquired a new publisher for the series, the series has a new look and also a new name – they’re now the Nichelle Clarke Crime Thrillers. The new covers are edgier and definitely darker than the previous ones, which reflected a much more cosy feel. I binged the previous books over a period of about six months, I think. The first four or five had been released and then I picked up the others. I’ve checked back periodically since reading the 6th, hoping it would continue and the 7th is finally here.

No sooner does Nichelle get the amazing news that she’s being pulled in by the political reporter to help cover a Presidential visit to Richmond, when she gets an interesting tidbit of information – a dead body has been found in the Mayor’s office. Kyle, ATF agent and Nichelle’s long-ago boyfriend, sends a cryptic message hinting at the identity of the victim but then vanishes, giving her the standard ‘no comment’ line.

That doesn’t wash with Nichelle – he can’t just offer up some information and then vanish after begging her not to print it. Nichelle is determined to get to the bottom of what happened, especially as it seems like the possible victim (apparently identification is an issue) is someone that she knows from an earlier case she investigated and reported on. Nichelle is also confused when she confides in Joey, her boyfriend of dubious employment and it seems he’s much more affected by this death than she expected. What exactly is going on? Joey has also warned her off the Presidential coverage but is vague about the why – just that he doesn’t want her anywhere near it. Nichelle doesn’t really do what she’s told, especially if he’s not going to give her a reason but she’s curious about what Joey knows that she doesn’t. And that’s a whole can of worms right there, given Joey’s line of work and the difficulties of being a crime reporter when your boyfriend is probably in the business of producing it. The deeper Nichelle gets, the more intriguing and dangerous this becomes – and when she takes a gamble, she might not just have blown up her career but she could also have signed her own death warrant.

This was an explosive ride from start to finish, in lots of ways. I feel as though this is a bit of a new direction for Nichelle, perhaps to match the new look. The fundamentals are still the same – Nichelle is still amazing at her job, she still has a great ‘nose’ for trouble and she’s still smart enough to puzzle things through, although this book does lead to her getting it wrong at one stage, but she figures out so quickly why and how. Nichelle has been struggling in her job for a while – it’s not a qualifications issue. It’s more the owner of the newspaper doesn’t really like her and has wanted to replace her for quite a while now. Nichelle’s boss Bob has always been able to back her up and keep her in the crime position but the way that things play out here suggest a very new direction for both Bob and Nichelle and I think I like it. I think it gives her a lot more scope and it might allow her to branch out into some more diverse and complex topics and features. I think the dynamics of the new situation will be really interesting in future books.

Something else that will be interesting is the situation with Joey. I really like Joey and have ever since he appeared in Nichelle’s living room in the first book. I’ve always been curious as to how Walker would progress with Nichelle and Joey given their different….situations and it seems she’s decided in this book. I’m not sure I like one of the complications of this but I hope it’s short term pain for some long term gain. I think the thing I like the most about Joey is that deep down, he knows that Nichelle is always going to do what she’s going to do – and it’s get on board or get out of the way. And he tends to just get on board. He might occasionally try to warn her off (like with the Presidential visit) but ultimately, he knows that it isn’t going to work. Nichelle simply isn’t like that. And he better just roll his sleeves up and try and keep her from getting dead, but in this book it’s kind of Nichelle who keeps Joey from getting dead. They work together so well, I’d really enjoy seeing them in that capacity more in the future.

I think this is probably my favourite in the series.

9/10

Book #50 of 2019

 

 

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Review: Lethal Lifestyles by LynDee Walker

lethal-lifestylesLethal Lifestyles (Headlines In High Heels #6)
LynDee Walker
Henery Press
2016, 288p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Wedding bells are ringing at the Richmond Telegraph, and maid of honor Nichelle Clarke is determined to give her friends the perfect fairytale beginning to their happily ever after. So when a corpse crashes rehearsal weekend, Nichelle ditches her wedding coordinator shoes for her crime reporter ones, and a little poking around turns up a big problem: the victim and the groom have a history, and it’s not a pretty one.

Evidence against groom Grant Parker piles up, leaving Nichelle wishing a hostile bridesmaid was still her biggest worry as she tries to fend off Richmond’s favorite TV reporter—and her own scheming publisher. At odds with the cops, her beloved editor, and the ticking clock, Nichelle races to uncover the truth and save the day before this perfect wedding turns into a funeral.

I love this series. I consider it one of my favourite discoveries this year and I was lucky as 5 had already been released when I came across it. I binged on them all during my cozy mystery stage and I’ve been anxiously awaiting this book and the next books in several other series’ as well.

I think the thing I really like about these books is that Nichelle is so damn good at her job. She’s not a bumbling heroine, stumbling from one disaster to the next or unemployed and constantly unable to make her rent or buy food. She is a crime reporter for a newspaper in Richmond, Virginia and she works long hours covering terrible incidents and quite often becomes invested in what she’s reporting. And involved. Nichelle does have a bit of a tendency to find herself in the firing line but it kind of works, the way that the books play out. She’s strong and dedicated with some interesting quirks.

In this installment, sports reporter Grant Parker, a regular in previous books, is marrying his girlfriend. Nichelle set them up in a previous book so the reader is more than familiar with them and due to her orchestration of their relationship, Nichelle is a bridesmaid who is going above and beyond the call of duty with wedding organisation and is determined that everything be perfect. The first spanner in the works there is the discovery of a dead body in a wine barrel at the wedding location and really, it all just kind of snowballs from there.

I always find the mysteries really interesting in these books and they do end up being quite intricate but without being confusing. Nichelle really does have a wealth of fabulous contacts and she is well versed in the politics of what she can and cannot use in her pieces so she manages to get the story without treading on toes or offending people. Nicey (what her friends call her) is involved in a friendly rivalry with the crime reporter for a local TV station with the two of them going head to head in the fight for exclusives. Nichelle and her boss Bob, an old-school reporter are constantly in the firing line from someone higher up who’d love nothing more than to be rid of both of them. Only Nichelle’s track record in getting the story keeps her employed and speaks of just how clever she is. She is passionate about her work and wanting to give victims a voice as well as get the facts across.

There’s some romance running through this series too. Nichelle meets the enigmatic “call me Joey” in book 1, an obvious mafioso who trades information in bits and pieces to further the agendas of his connections. However there are times when Nichelle’s quests put her in direct conflict with what Joey and his cohorts might consider a desirable outcome and as the chemistry and affection between Nichelle and Joey grows, so does Joey’s struggle with his two worlds. Given that he appears to be in the business of furthering crime in some way or another (his exact role has never been made clear and Nichelle has a strict policy of not asking) and Nichelle is in the business of uncovering and exposing it, it seems likely that eventually this will cause some sort of catastrophic explosion. Add in the fact that Nichelle’s former boyfriend is a hotshot ATF agent who wouldn’t mind a) removing the “former” from that description and b) uncovering Joey’s secrets and bringing down the entire hierarchy of the organisation he works for, there’s a lot of tension that simmers in these books nicely. For now Nichelle and Joey are moving forward (and I looove this because I really like Joey and especially Joey with Nichelle).

This was one of my faves of the series so far – they’re all good, continuing to get better as we get to know Nichelle more and her relationship with Joey develops and Kyle, the ATF agent continues to complicate matters. Now the only problem is waiting for the next one.

9/10

Book #169 of 2016

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