By Sara Driscoll
Author Website: jenjdanna(.)com/fbi-k-9s
Brought to you by OBS Reviewer Jeanie
Set against the gripping backdrop of K-9 search-and-rescue missions, Sara Driscoll’s mystery series is “wonderfully readable” (Publishers Weekly). A treat for dog lovers who like their heroines smart and their stories with a harder edge.
A training session in the Minnesota wilderness becomes a fight for survival for FBI handler Meg Jennings and her K-9 partner . . .
Keeping their search-and-rescue skills honed isn’t just a job requirement for FBI Special Agent Meg Jennings and her Labrador, Hawk—it’s essential to saving lives. A water search training weekend in the -Boundary Waters area of Minnesota has attracted participants from all levels of law enforcement, each vying to win. The races are challenging, the rivalry is intense, and Meg is already under pressure when Hawk alerts to a scent in the water—and discovers the fresh body of one of Meg’s fellow competitors.
The contest is called off, but Meg’s still feeling the heat. The victim had made an unfounded complaint about her, one that could cost Meg her job and see Hawk removed from her care. The field of suspects is daunting, and all of them are experts in throwing others off the trail. And though Meg’s team flies out to Minnesota to help uncover the truth, they’re on unfamiliar territory, pitted against a killer with the skills, and the motivation, to stay hidden in plain sight. (Goodreads)
“Take the joy where you can find it.” Wise words on a trip that went very differently than planned.
For those who enjoy novels about K-9s and their handlers, this fast-paced thriller is one of my favorites so far in the FBI K-9 series. Amid forests and lakes in Minnesota, Meg and fellow FBI handler Brian get one of their most challenging cases. They and their search and rescue K-9s Hawk and Lacey are far from DC on a training weekend that includes timed trials with six other handlers from around the country. To Meg and Brian, K-9s Hawk and Lacey are family members and not just working partners. When Meg finds herself in a situation where she can lose not only Hawk, but her job and her freedom, it is imperative to get to the bottom of it.
The special training weekend is for water search and rescue, and both Hawk and Lacey are doing very well. Each day after the training session, a timed competition is scheduled for the dogs and their handlers. On the first day, Brian timed himself, but the scorekeepers claimed a longer time for him, allowing handler Deputy Pratt and her dog, Ava, to win. There was also a spot on the competition course that caused two of the other dogs, including Hawk, to struggle, and one to be disqualified for the day. Pratt and Deputy Fief are overheard arguing afterwards, and when Meg and Brian tried to keep it from escalating, Pratt nearly turned her temper on Meg.
Late that night, Meg and Hawk were taking a walk and heard Pratt shouting at someone. When looking for what was happening, Meg saw Pratt severely abusing Ava and confronted her on what Pratt claimed was disciplining Ava’s aggression. Meg planned to turn in a report about the abuse when the weekend was over.
The next morning, Hawk excelled at the training session. He then alerted as if he was making another find. Claire, Meg’s assigned trainer, told her to pursue it. After pinning the location, the diver came back up with pictures showing the remains of Deputy Pratt at the bottom of the river.
The special agent from the Minnesota field office was young and brash. He was going after Meg rather than considering anyone else for several reasons. Rather than risk being reported, Pratt had left a message for her superior officer stating that Meg was abusing Hawk instead. Another deputy claimed Meg was angry when Pratt denigrated Hawk. The clincher was that Meg supposedly steered her dog to find Pratt’s body, as a guilty person might do.
The character portrayals were excellent. The author demonstrated as necessary who each person was, primarily through their behaviors and conversations. Meg and her K-9 partner Hawk are my favorites, along with Brian and Lacey, then those who came camping with them for the duration, including Meg’s partner Todd and his brothers, her sister’s partner McCord, and Brian’s husband, Ryan. Their loyalty to each other is consistent, as is their obvious affection and concern for each other, and appreciating the value of each one’s contributions to the group.
This was a satisfying thriller on every level. The action added incredible life to the story, and I felt almost as if I were there. The author briefly gives reasons behind certain conclusions that are described in a way that is understandable. Each chapter begins with a definition for some process or event that will take place in the chapter. The mystery itself was a challenge to solve. Memories of some prior cases from the past were mentioned. Plot twists and turns showed more about the events in question and the suspects, but this would not be an easy solve. I was unable to figure out who the bad guy was before the team did, which kept the intrigue mounting. Overall, I was completely satisfied with this novel, and highly recommend it and its series.