Saturday, February 06, 2021

The River Girls by Melinda Woodhall

The River Girls (Mercy Harbor)The River Girls by Melinda Woodhall
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The River Girls, book one in the Mercy Harbor series, is an exciting mystery thriller debut!

Five years ago, successful software developer, Eden Winthrop, discovered the body of her younger sister, who her abusive husband had murdered. Now she's watching the front desk of one of the safe houses for abused women that she's set up in her small Florida hometown of Willow Bay when a teenage girl named Star shows up looking for refuge. Against protocol and proper vetting, Eden allows her inside, listening to her desperate story that men have killed her friend, Jess, and now they're after her! Getting her settled in a room for the night, Eden calls the foundation's executive director for guidance, but when the other woman arrives, they discover Star has slipped out the back door and headed down to the river nearby. Fearing the girl may have drowned, Eden goes to the police department to report her as missing.

Police Detective Vanessa 'Nessa' Ainsley takes Eden's report, and days later, when she's called to the river where a teenage girl's body has been found in the water where she'd been dumped after having been strangled. The crime and the victim's details are similar to a previous scene weeks earlier, and the department fears a serial killer is at work. Nessa contacts Eden to view the body to see if it is Star.

Leo Steele is a successful criminal defense attorney. Some, like Eden, would say too successful. He's the lawyer that got her sister's husband off charges of violating a protective order the week before he murdered her. He's been contacted by one of his clients who was not so lucky and is currently serving time while her teenage daughter is on her own and being passed from one foster situation to another. The daughter, Jess, has dropped out of sight, and she wants Leo to try and locate her. He is also contacted to help identify the body, and it is his client's daughter, Jess.

Eden and Leo overcome their differences and begin to work together to find Star, who they feel is in danger and holds the key to Jess's murder. When another teenage girl's body is found in the river, Detective Ainsley heads up a team of veteran investigators to work the evidence from the crime scenes and stop this killer before another girl is murdered.

The River Girls is a fast-paced and gripping thriller of a mystery. The characters are a diverse group of people, each with their own lives and problems, who come together to solve this horrific series of murders of teenage girls. The bad guys are very bad and easy to despise, and some are tantalizingly hidden in plain sight. The main characters felt like real people to me, and I particularly appreciated seeing things through the eyes of the teenage girls involved. I was surprised and pleased with how the story is resolved and look forward to more books in the series.

THE RIVER GIRLS is a violent story with murders of teenage victims. It has several plot lines to follow, but they are straight-forward and easy to follow. The story also features a character with an anxiety disorder with an emotional support animal that I found very interesting and different in mystery/thrillers. I would recommend this book to those who would like to read a small-town thriller or mystery.

I received an advance review copy for free from Book Sirens, and I am leaving this review voluntarily.

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