Sunday, September 23, 2018

Sweet After Death by Valentina Giambanco

First Sentence:  The woods pressed into the town from all sides.
The tiny town of Ludlow, Washington, near the border with Canada, has never had a murder, until now. The police department of three--Sherriff Will Sangster, and Deputies Hockley and Kupitz—is out of its depth, so Sergeant Kevin Brown, CSI Amy Sorenson, and Detective Alice Madison fly in from Seattle.  Nothing about this case is straight-forward, especially when a second murder occurs with a completely different M.O. and was clearly the work of a professional.  And who left the scrawled note of "Help me" in the office of one of the victims.
Ignoring the prologue, whose information could have been incorporated later, one could read Chapter 1, which provides atmosphere, skip Chapter 2, which has no real relevance to the current story, and move on to Chapter 3, which is when one meets the characters and learns of their backgrounds.  Happily, things improve significantly from there on;  so much so that one comes to the view that if one hasn't read Giambanco before, one might wonder as to why not.
The author has a wonderful voice with just the right note of dry humor—"They had gone to school together, and their families had known each other for a long time; because of this Hockley could swear, hand on his heart, that Jay Kupitz had all the sense of a bag of jam nuts."
Giambanco creates a very good sense of underlying threat.  As with any town, there are secrets, and in a very small town, those secrets have an even greater significance.  Samuel, from the prologue, is pivotal to one of those secrets and becomes a very interesting character. 
Although one may not usually be a fan of backstory told through memories, Alice's is so well done and interesting one can't help but being interested and liking the character all the more. The information conveyed explains a lot about the person she has become.  However, the two pages of background information printed in italics could have been handled differently, but for that one should blame the publisher, not the author.
Each of the characters is strong and most are people one would want to know.  Not one of them is superfluous or flat.   One will particularly appreciate the epilogue, although it is not so named, and the end of Alice's story.
"Sweet After Death" takes one on an amazing ride, increasing the tension and danger, and surprising the readers with both the identity of the killer and the motive in a way which is very well done.  There are subtle twists and one can appreciate that the forensic information is as fascinating as is the logical progression of the physical investigation.        
SWEET AFTER DEATH (Pol Proc-Det. Alice Madison-Washington St.- Contemp. – VG+
      Giambanco, Valentina (aka V.M. Giambanco)
      Quercus – Aug 2018


  1. The setting for this one really sounds good. And that's the thing about prologues, isn't it? Sometimes they're excellent, but often, they don't serve the story.

  2. Very true. I am not a big fan of prologues.