I’ve been on a mystery / thriller kick lately and “My Sister’s Grave” really hit the spot. It was like reading an episode of “Bones” meets “Law and Order: SVU”. I shouldn’t really compare books to TV shows but forgive me this, I don’t read a ton in this genre all the time so TV shows are the easiest comparisons I can make. It didn’t have any of the TV show “Bones” absurd science where you magnify the pixels from a reflection in a doorknob to positively I.D your killer (which is a good thing) and it didn’t spend an inordinate amount of time describing the heinous crimes like in SVU, it gave you enough so you got the idea and then moved on (also, a good thing). Instead, Dugoni gives us a no-nonsense female homicide detective who started her career not as a cop, but as a high school chemistry teacher who also competed in shooting competitions. She’s smart. Tough as nails. She’s a believable badass and I love it.
Tracy became a detective for one heartbreaking reason: her sister was abducted twenty years ago and her body was never found. Everything about the trial has nagged at Tracy and it has led her to believe that things were not as they seemed in her quaint little town of Cedar Grove. That a larger conspiracy was at play and it somehow involved her sister. Tracy never fully believes that the man they arrested is the responsible party. That nagging belief pushes her to become a cop in a male dominated field and the author does a great job of showing the prejudice that Tracy faces without making it the focus of the book.
New evidence takes Tracy back home when a body is discovered in the mountains of her home town. This hardened, big city homicide detective returns home in hopes that the body they found is her sisters. Which is a weird thing to hope for but it’s so well written and so believable… wanting to have closure but wanting to hold on to hope that your missing loved one is still out there somewhere. It’s gut wrenching and Dugoni does a great job of presenting scenes just like that without making it unnecessarily melodramatic. There are several instances throughout the book where Dugoni allows the subtly of his writing and the brevity of the situation to carry the reader without beating anyone over the head with Tracy’s conflicting feelings, her heartbreak, her desperation for answers and the truth about what happened to her sister.
Dugoni did a ton of research for this book series and it shows right out of the gate. He consulted cops, detectives, forensic anthropologists, psychologists, lawyers, and people who compete in gun shows just to name a few of the resources. Leaning on factual research as the mystery around Tracy’s sister intensifies always keeps the story in a strong sense of realism that never once falls on super high tech to explain how they found something like popular crime TV shows. It keeps the story intense and moving in a way where you are always nervous for the characters but believe (re: hope) they can handle it because they are legitimately smart.
Now the book did have some things that are keeping me from giving this all the stars. Some of the timing felt off towards the end (I won’t say more than that because I don’t want to spoil anything). But things moved in such a way that I felt like, with how realistic Dugoni was being, things should have taken longer. That and there were instances where the subtly of how two characters felt about each other seemed pretty obvious and then the author would, in the very next chapter, say the things I had figured out on my own. I felt it was a bit unnecessary and killed some of the tension he had otherwise built up. But all in all, these things were small and didn’t detract from the overall mystery and story.
This is definitely a series I’ll be continuing. Each book wraps up a case much like any crime drama you’d watch which gives a nice close to the story but with characters you like following as they solve more crimes. In fact, I’ve already added the next two in the Tracy Crosswhite series onto my Kindle! But it’s not going to be my next review, need a little bit of a break from all the dead bodies. But! Given the research Dugoni did in creating such a badass heroine and the pacing he’s created for his mystery novels, this book gets a very solid 4.5 stars!