Book Review: The Sorority Murder by Allison Brennan
Regan Merritt is done with working in law enforcement despite her stellar career in the U.S. Marshals Service. Now she’s back in Flagstaff, Arizona, licking her wounds while staying with her dad in her childhood home. When her former mentor at Northern Arizona University (NAU), hearing that she’s in town, asks for her to be a guest lecturer in his criminology course, she’s happy to do Professor Henry Clarkson a favor. But it’s another favor that he asks for that she isn’t quite so sure about fulfilling.
For his capstone project, forensics major Lucas Vega has decided to create and air a podcast under Professor Clarkson’s supervision, looking into a cold case involving a NAU student. Three years ago, beautiful, conscientious nursing student Candace Swain was found dead in the lake of a local golf course, strangled and then drowned. The police suspected a drifter, Joseph Abernathy, who’d been escorted off-campus several times for public intoxication and urination. More suspiciously, he and Candace knew one another, and were seen arguing shortly before she disappeared. After she went missing, Joseph disappeared as well, with a witness reporting that he’d jumped on a train out of town. Now three years have passed and Candace’s death remains a mystery.
Lucas, however, thinks he’s uncovered some important information. While interning at the Medical Examiner’s office, he found out that the water in Candace’s lungs was markedly different from the water of the lake, leading him to believe that Joseph was framed and that the real killer is still out there. He thinks that the secret to discovering what really happened lies in retracing her steps in the week between when she was first reported missing and when she was found dead. A podcast, he hopes, will encourage people to re-examine their memories and come forward with new information about where she might have been in the intervening time.
It’s partly for this reason that Professor Clarkson wants Regan to appear on the podcast and give Lucas a hand:
For nearly half of Regan’s thirteen years in the Marshal Service, she’d tracked fugitives. She had often been called for cases outside her jurisdiction because she had an uncanny way of getting into the heads of those who didn’t want to be found. She also had a knack for getting people to remember details they thought they’d forgotten or never consciously knew. People saw and heard a lot, but remembering those details could be difficult.
The other reason is the fact that Lucas is absolutely stirring up a hornet’s nest of controversy on campus. While Candace’s actual family is on board with Lucas’s efforts, Candace’s sisters in the Sigma Rho sorority have closed ranks in an attempt to freeze him out. They’re convinced that the podcast will only drag Candace’s name through the mud. But do some of the women have an ulterior motive for keeping quiet? And what will they do when some of their own decide to anonymously call in with tips that may help Lucas and Regan get closer to the truth?
As the threats and deaths begin piling up, Lucas and Regan must work together to uncover what really happened to Candace all those years ago. Regan is obviously more prepared for this work and the dangers that accompany it than Lucas is, as shown in this heart-to-heart Lucas has with Professor Clarkson:
[“]I could have died. I’m not ready to die. That sounds lame.”
“No. It does not sound lame. If anything, it should remind you that every day is a gift. If you’re religious, you might say that every day is a gift from God. If you’re not, you might just call it living in the moment. You are going to go far, Lucas. You have compassion and intelligence, and you’ll use both in your chosen field.”
“There were so many mistakes in the investigation, but not on purpose. Just little things–like the delay from the lab on Candace’s lungs. I don’t want to make mistakes that might let a killer go free.”
“We all make mistakes, Lucas. It’s a part of life, a part of growing up. It’s owning those mistakes, of trying to not make the same mistake twice. Of learning each and every day.”
It’s always such a pleasure to review an Allison Brennan novel! She knows how to write absorbing, twisty thrillers with plenty of heart and sense, and The Sorority Murder is no different. Lucas and Regan are compelling protagonists, and I’m very much hoping that this novel is only the first in a series, especially with the background information we’re given on why Regan left the service. I’m intrigued and invested, and looking forward to more!