Death in the Family
Shana Merchant #1
By Tessa Wegert
Author’s website: tessawegert.com
Brought to you by OBS Reviewer Jeanie
A storm-struck island. A blood-soaked bed. A missing man.
Senior Investigator Shana Merchant believes it all adds up to a killer in their
midst—and that murder is a family affair.
Thirteen months ago, former NYPD detective Shana Merchant barely survived being abducted by a serial killer. Now hoping to leave grisly murder cases behind, she’s taken a job in her fiancé’s sleepy hometown in the Thousand Islands region of Upstate New York.
But as a nor’easter bears down on her new territory, Shana and fellow investigator Tim Wellington receive a call about a man missing on a private island. Shana and Tim travel to the isolated island owned by the wealthy Sinclair family to question the witnesses. They arrive to find blood on the scene and a house full of Sinclair family and friends on edge.
While Tim guesses they’re dealing with a runaway case, Shana is convinced that they have a murder on their hands. As the gale intensifies outside, she starts conducting interviews and discovers the Sinclairs and their guests are crawling with dark and dangerous secrets.
Trapped on the island by the raging storm with only Tim whose reliability is thrown into question, the increasingly restless suspects, and her own trauma-fueled flashbacks for company, Shana will have to trust the one person her abduction destroyed her faith in—herself. But time is ticking down, because if Shana’s right, a killer is in their midst and as the pressure mounts, so do the odds that they’ll strike again.
It’s hard to believe this intense thriller is the author’s debut novel! I am very impressed with this locked-room type of mystery. The setting is creepy, the mystery and suspects are chilling, and the lead investigator has a past that is revealed bit by bit, flashback by flashback. The characters are described well, and there are just the right amount of details. It wasn’t long before I was hooked and had a hard time putting the novel down. Death in the Family gives Tessa Wegert a solid foothold in this genre.
Shana is a senior investigator in New York’s Thousand Islands after leaving behind her career as a homicide detective in New York City. She is technically Tim’s superior, even though he has been an investigator in Alexandria Bay for several years. While Sheriff Maureen McIntyre knows of her past, Tim does not. When working on a series of murders in New York, Shana had been kidnapped and held hostage by the killer for over a week, the only one of his victims that he didn’t kill.
Shana and her fiancé, Carson, originally from Alexandria Bay, move there so she can be in a quiet place to recover from her ordeal and he will open a new practice there. Against his wishes, she joined the local police force; A-Bay is known for being free from major crimes.
Until Saturday. A nor’easter came in on Friday. The phone call came from Tern Island, reporting the murder of Jasper Sinclair, one of the grandsons of Camilla Sinclair, owner of the island. Even though they did not find a body, his side of the bed shared with his fiancée was covered in blood. Tim and Shana went to the mansion on the three-acre island in the police boat.
Throughout the day, the storm worsens, keeping other investigators from joining them. This is the first homicide Shana has been on since being abducted and held by her tormenter. Carson, who had been her psychiatrist, is worried and wants her off the island and home. Having grown up in the area, he also warned her about Tim. Tim, the investigator who thinks they are merely dealing with a missing person case. As family members’ emotions escalate from hostile to volatile, Shana has flashbacks to her abduction, which could jeopardize her and everyone there. Then Shana and Tim discover that the police boat and the Sinclair skiff are gone, and another guest dies – this time with the body in evidence.
Shana and Tim meet a fascinating houseful of folks. First is the caretaker, Philip Norton. He makes frequent mention of the trapper who was there the day before trying to get rid of mink in the boathouse. Abby, Jasper’s girlfriend, is on the island for the first time to meet his family. She is from Canada, in NYC on a work visa.
Flynn is the oldest sibling, a muscular man who drinks too much. He is head of finance at Sinclair Fabrics, started by their grandfather many years earlier. Flynn’s younger boyfriend is present, also. Ned met Flynn when Jasper hired him to be the “face” of Sinclair Fabrics. Bebe is the middle sibling and CEO. Her distaste for having Shana and Tim there, and Abby, is clear. Her husband Miles, an attorney, is there with Jade, his teenage daughter from his first marriage. Camilla Sanders, who owns the island, is there, content that her family has joined her before the mansion is closed for the winter.
Jasper recently came to Sinclair Fabrics as director of marketing and PR to try to save the floundering company. In this family of secrets, who could have killed him? Abby, Jasper, and Ned were close friends outside work. Abby disclosed to Shana that the evening before, she saw Ned and Bebe together in the shed, shocked that he would go out on the volatile Flynn, especially with his sister. I am glad to see this is first in a series, as I want to find out more about Shana’s background, the only thing left shadowed at the end of the novel. She is an observant woman who doubts her abilities, especially since her fiancée still believes she isn’t ready to be at work and this kind of case could set her back to the beginning. I couldn’t imagine being in a huge home on a rugged island in a violent storm, unable to leave or get help to come in, with at least one killer. There is motive for at least a couple people on the island to want to kill Jasper, are there others that haven’t yet been raised? Tempers escalate to an explosive denouement in which Shana has to draw on everything she has to try to prevent another death, including her own. I highly recommend this incredible thriller by an amazing new novelist!
*OBS would like to thank the publisher for supplying a free copy of this title in exchange for an honest review*