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'Shadow Ridge' review: Exciting crime series launch

"Shadow Ridge" by M.E. Browning..

"Shadow Ridge" by M.E. Browning.. Credit: TNS/Penguin Random House

SHADOW RIDGE by M.E. Browning (Crooked Lane, 396 pp., $26.99)

In "Shadow Ridge," M.E. Browning melds an energetic police procedural and an appealing heroine set against a vivid Colorado background in this launch of a new series that shows great potential.

Browning's affinity for realistic plotting gets a boost in "Shadow Ridge," as does her skills in creating believable characters that readers will want to spend time with. The novel centers on Jo Wyatt, one of three police detectives — and one of the few women officers — in the small city of Echo Valley.

Jo is first on the scene of the apparent suicide of college student Tye Horton. The scene seems off to Jo, who insists on investigating Tye's death as a crime, despite the objections from her chief and her estranged husband who has just been promoted over her. Violent deaths also aren't common in the fictional Echo Valley, which has had only two homicides during the 12 years Jo has been on the force.

"Fatal crashes, hunting accidents, Darwin Award-worthy stupidity, sure, but murder? That was the leap year of crimes and happened only once every four years or so," Jo says.
The case leads Jo to Tye's college project creating a video game that might have landed him a lucrative sale. The game is now missing. One student connected to the game also committed suicide, while another, Quinn Kirkwood has been receiving sexually explicit and threatening emails.
Browning skillfully weaves in sexism on the police force and among the video game aficionados and predatory professors into a tightly focused police investigation. Jo's insight as a detective enhances the plot, but she also realistically makes mistakes. As well as her job, she deals with being separated from her husband who is less qualified than she is as a police officer and her ex-cop father, who wanted a son and often derides her sleuthing skills. By contrast, Quinn's perpetual anger and sarcasm are fueled by guilt and self-loathing.
Browning's Jo should be with readers for a long time.

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