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SHALLOW GRAVE
by Lori G. Armstrong
Medallion Press, November 2007
548 pages
$7.95
ISBN: 1933836180


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

SHALLOW GRAVE is Lori Armstrong’s third in her romantic suspense series featuring private investigator Julie Collins and set in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Her last book, HALLOWED GROUND, was much acclaimed, winning the Willa Cather Literary Award for Women Writing the West, and shortlisted for both the Daphne Du Maurier Award and the Shamus for best paperback original. I loved HALLOWED GROUND and looked forward to a chance to read SHALLOW GRAVE.

SHALLOW GRAVE finds Julie back in Bear Butte County, this time on a surveillance assignment for an insurance fraud case. Lang Everett is off work and collecting disability payments, but he’s been seen racing his ATV, cranking the engine block out of his vehicle and otherwise acting like a man capable of resuming his job duties.

Julie and her business partner, Kevin, have spent many chilly hours on a stakeout to document his escapades for the insurance company when they witness Lang punching his wife and jumping into his four-wheeler. Of course they follow him, Julie’s video camera rolling, but the ATV hits a hole and pitches over an embankment, killing Lang.

When Julie takes a look at the hole that caused the accident, she finds human bones. The county sheriff asks for her help with the investigation, and as she unearths the truth about the bones, she’s faced with some hard truths about her own past.

There’s a lot of plot packed into SHALLOW GRAVE. Way too much. There are at least six different storylines going on simultaneously and they tend to snag on each other. For example, the action focused on the central crime stalls to a complete halt as Armstrong spends a hundred or so pages in a silly romance sub-plot where Julie goes undercover in her bad-boy boyfriend’s strip club.

Although Collins still writes the best sex in mystery fiction, this time she’s lost her bearings. It’s as though she can’t decide whether she’s writing erotic romance or hard-boiled mystery, so she’s combined a few different books into one novel, sinking all of them in the process. Coincidences abound, new characters emerge out of nowhere, and the thematic unity that made HALLOWED GROUND such a great read is nowhere to be found.

In SHALLOW GRAVE Armstrong seems much more intent on developing the romantic aspects of her storyline than on giving depth to her mystery. Julie is a woman surrounded by adoring men. Her boyfriend is the wild, sexy gang leader, Martinez, but her business partner, Kevin, and her friend Jimmer seem to be waiting in the wings with nothing better to do than rush to Julie’s side when trouble looms or to take shifts nursing her back to health each time her impetuous and ill-conceived forays into danger land her in the hospital.

Still, no writer can write a great book every time. I hope that Armstrong’s next effort will be a stronger, more cohesive book.

Reviewed by Carroll Johnson, January 2007

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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