Book Review: Flight by Laura Griffin

A tenacious local detective and a former forensic photographer must team up to bring down a vicious serial killer in the latest romantic thriller from author Laura Griffin.

Laura Griffin delivers topical stories, deserving of the accolade “ripped from the headlines.” Her characters are intelligent and detail-oriented, constantly sifting through impressions and facts to arrive at sound conclusions. Set in the fictional Texas coastal town of Lost Beach, Flight is a romantic thriller, in which Griffin masterfully balances the elements of attraction and ratcheting tension. Former forensic photographer Miranda Rhoads is the sister of Austin journalist Bailey Rhoads, the heroine of Hidden. The sisters are persistent, prescient, and passionate about ferreting out the truth. 

Miranda Rhoads has taken flight from her former life. A case involving a child ended tragically and Miranda is unable to forgive herself. Strong, determined, and self-driven heroines are a hallmark of Griffin’s thrillers and Miranda fits the bill. Before she quit her job as a forensic photographer, she was an integral member of an investigative unit, her schedule determined by the needs of her department. 

Forensic work was high stakes, the very highest. Not like nature photography. In police work, if you missed your shot, you didn’t get another one. The possibility of failure was always there, swirling beneath the surface, like a current ready to pull you under. She’d been pulled under before.

What are the odds that in Miranda’s new role of freelance nature photographer, she would encounter a crime scene when she is out photographing the sunrise? Something about a drifting canoe causes her to take notice.

The air felt charged, and all her senses went on high alert. Habits kicked in. She noted the direction of the wind.  She noted the height of the sun. She noted the air, damp and pungent, pressing around her. Her stomach clenched tightly as she took a slow, shallow stroke, careful not to bump the canoe with her kayak as she peered over the side.

 

They looked peaceful, with their long limbs intertwined. His arm around her was protective. Tender.

 

Obscene.

 

Miranda’s vision blurred. Her brain recoiled from the sight in front of her, but she couldn’t turn away, couldn’t stop from registering every detail.

Miranda’s professional muscle memory goes into overdrive as she takes countless photographs, preserving the murder scene for posterity. She calls in the crime right away and Detective Joel Breda interviews her. He realizes immediately that Miranda is no ordinary witness. After he has her checked out and learns of her forensic photography expertise, he tells her wants her on his team. But that’s not all he wants—the two have an instant attraction. Can Miranda work for Joel if they have a personal relationship? Once again, Laura Griffin weaves in issues that are all too common in today’s workplaces. 

In the current social media age, investigating must cast a wide net, examining Instagram pages with a fine-tooth comb, for instance. Nicole Lawson, one of Joel’s younger colleagues, is tasked with building a social media profile of the victims. She tracks their peripatetic wanderings, discovering that although they posted selfies from everywhere, they were no ordinary tourists.

“Okay, so the two of them had been road-tripping for months, right? Posting all these pictures of themselves at tourist attractions and national parks and scenic overlooks,” she said. “And when they weren’t busy taking selfies in front of the Grand Canyon or whatever, they were busy protesting all the evil corporations ravaging the planet, right?”

 

“Okay.”

 

“But what if they’re just as bad as the corporations? Maybe worse?”

 

Joel frowned. “How?”

 

“Well, I’ve been reading the comments on their posts. And not everybody agrees they’re exactly saving the world with what they’re doing. A lot of the places they’ve visited—most of them, in fact—are suffering from overtourism.”

Joel can be forgiven for being skeptical—can folks who are all about saving the planet be tangentially guilty of contributing to over-tourism? His case suffers from a surfeit of possibilities. 

Another avenue of investigation yields fascinating results. After Joel debriefs Miranda, she tells him to protect the evidence. 

“Make sure they bag her hands,” she told him.

 

“What’s that?”

 

“The female victim,” she said. “She’s holding a feather. You don’t want it getting lost in transport, so tell your CSI to make sure to bag her hands.”

Miranda consults with Daisy, a local ornithologist, who tells her the feather was not found in its natural habitat. Daisy uses the “Global Feather Index,” which is popular with birders and law enforcement alike. As it turns out, it’s a feather from an endangered Brazilian species—Anodorhynchus leari, the indigo macaw. Working together, Joel and Miranda discover past crime scenes that were also decorated with a feather from an endangered species, making the environmental activist connection more likely. 

They are puzzled by a figure-eight symbol tattoo (found on both victims) but Miranda has a connection with an anthropology professor in San Antonio who might be able to help. She tells Joel that Mike Connor is an expert in symbology noting that he wrote a book on the subject: Symbols through the Ages: Hieroglyphics to Emojis. Miranda and Joel construct a giant jigsaw puzzle based on clues, inferences, obscure leads, and old-fashioned police questioning. They get results, which puts them in danger, particularly Miranda. For all its modernity, Flight is a real old-fashioned page-turner. 

Fortunately, this isn’t the end of the Texas Murder Files series. In an interview, Griffin spilled a few details: “The next book is Last Seen Alone, about an Austin lawyer and victims’ rights advocate who gets involved in a murder investigation when her client goes missing.” It will also be set in Lost Beach, Texas. Stay tuned readers!

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