Melanie Vargas, a young federal prosecutor in New York City's US Attorney's Office, and a brand new mother, stumbles onto a crime scene one steamy summer night while she is out walking her daughter, Maya. Police officers bustle outside a building, keeping crowds away, just a few blocks from Melanie's own apartment, while firefighters in full regalia hose down the remnants of a fire. Vargas recognizes the posh town house of Jed and Nell Benson, business acquaintances of hers. Jed had once been a famous prosecutor, almost a celebrity, then switched career paths and made a bundle of money in private law practice. His dead body was just discovered in his study, burned almost beyond recognition, but not enough to hide a bullet hole in his forehead and savage dog bites on his body. Melanie sees her friend and old college roommate, Sophie Cho, outside the crime scene. Sophie, an architect, had spent the last year renovating the building, and is devastated at the her employer's loss of life. She offers to take Maya home while Melanie investigates. Ambitious to further her career, Ms. Vargas wants in - she wants the case badly. This will be the high profile, headline-grabbing story of the year. The Benson's teenage daughter, Amanda, was also found at the scene, unconscious ,with a few fingers chopped off, and the maid had been beaten senseless. Both are in the hospital.
Melanie finagles her way onto the murder scene and then lobbies her tough boss, for the case. She promises to work 24/7, putting herself in a bind obtaining last minute, off-hour childcare for Maya. She also keeps the lid on her marital situation, which is miserable. Husband Steve was caught in an extramarital affair shortly after the baby's birth and Melanie insisted on a temporary separation - still in effect. Steve very much wants to reconcile, but Melanie has mixed feelings about the nature of their relationship and his commitment to it.
Dan O'Reilly, a very handsome, competent and caring FBI agent is assigned to work the case with her. There is instant chemistry between the two, and although both acknowledge the mutual attraction, they remain professional. The evidence leads them to investigate the C-Trout Gangsta Blades gang, and their sadistic kingpin Slice, who just happens to have a dog trained to kill. Additional information points to suspicious dealings at Benson's exclusive law firm and another motive. And a series of dangerous events, including the brutal murder of three witnesses, bring Melanie to the conclusion that there is at least one major leak high-up in the investigation. As work proceeds, the case becomes more complex and is not as open and shut as it had first appeared.
I couldn't put this book down. It is Michele Martinez's debut novel and she packs it with suspense, thrills and a riveting storyline. The mystery is an interesting one, although not too difficult to figure out. The development of her protagonist, and other characters, are what impressed me the most. Melanie is muy simpatica - an extremely intelligent woman, she is a Latina who was brought up on the mean streets of Bushwick, Brooklyn, and has a past which haunts her. She adores Maya and is thrilled with her new role as mother. Only now is she discovering how different her definition of marriage is from her husband's. She is attempting to overcome her hurt and confusion at his infidelity and do the right thing, making a major effort to ignore her growing feelings for Agent O'Reilly. Her strength of character, courage and tenacity assist her in getting through some really scary situations, and persisting until she solves this difficult case. Melanie typifies grace under pressure. Her sister Linda is adorable as the family's Latina princess, and O'Reilly is almost too good to be true. The villains run the gamut from bad news to animalistic sadistic psychopath. And Bernadette is the boss from hell!
Michele Martinez, a former prosecutor, writes a taut narrative and has created a page turner. OK! I'm ready to read novel number two. Please get busy Ms. Martinez, your fans are waiting!