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Here's the hitch: when she gets back home, Sarah receives some rather creepy valentines (and it's not even February!). Anyway, the heart-shaped notes aren't love-tokens, by any stretch. In fact, they're clues and connections to the murders of several blonde-haired and green-eyed women. And guess who else is blonde and green-eyed? If you guessed Sarah, then ding-ding-ding!
Ace police detective Steven Quaid is determined to catch this Alaskan killer. He's equally determined to hate poor Sarah's guts, based on the speculation of his pal Terry from the Seattle police force, who's just bent on pegging Michael Palmer's death on his "Black Widow."
Can you say massively intense romantic conflict, people? 'Cause I sure can.
*****Some Mild Spoilers Below*****
In fact, Steve's so dead set against Sarah at the start (if you'll pardon the pun), that he blindly attacks her, as Sarah rightly notes, without any concrete evidence at all. I found his prejudiced attitude and, frankly, unprofessional behavior and language toward her off-putting, so by the time he got his head out of his butt and began to look at Sarah's history with the clear, analytical cop-brain for which he's famed, I wasn't too keen on relaxing my dislike of him. But the loving care he showed Sarah eventually turned me around.
I liked the character of Sarah very much, in part because I have this thing about rooting for the underdog in any given situation. But mainly, Sarah comes off as an elegant woman who's doing her best to keep her shit together and do good work while dealing with heaps of grief. At times, I worried that she couldn't possibly survive the next big thing to hit her, but damned if she didn't. Every time. And girlfriend gets loads of abuse heaped upon her. Like, a lot, poor gal. Still, there's this thread of steel running along her spine, for which I have to say kudos. I admire Sarah for maintaining her graciousness, of both spirit and mind, and for her sheer grit and determination to bloody well survive, damn it. You go, gurl!
Renée weaves a crafty tale, so rich in the Alaskan landscape and rhythms that at times I got lulled into thinking this was a delightfully "cozy" mystery. Only then some brutal murder would flash before my eyes and I'd be all like, "Whoa!" and reaching for a drink. (Just kidding, I didn't drink whilst reading this.) (Not water, anyway.) I feel like, beneath the charming world Sarah was desperately trying to recreate, there was this Dean Koontzian edge of cray-cray that totally kept me on the edge of my seat. (And actually, there are some legitimately cray-cray characters here that made me want to shower after I understood the depths of their depraved weirdness.) (And that's saying something.)
While Murder, Madness, & Love can be read as a stand-alone story, there is a sequel due out in October, which I plan to pick up and read on my travels that month (as October's a big travel month for me at my day job). I recommend Murder, Madness, & Love to those who enjoy a layered mystery which is warmed by a lovely romance and spiced with a bit of the truly bizarre.