Fresh Meat: A Deeper Darkness by J.T. Ellison

A Deeper Darkness by J.T. EllisonA Deeper Darkness by J.T. Ellison is a Sam Owens forensics thriller (available April 17).

Ellison fans (like me) are used to her police procedural thrillers featuring Taylor Jackson. But while I enjoy Taylor, I was glad to see that Ellison was branching out into a new series as well. Samantha Owens is a medical examiner in Nashville, but she takes a leave to do a personal favor . . . going to Washington, DC, to do a secondary autopsy in the murder case of her former lover, Eddie, at the request of his mother, Eleanor.

But although Sam performs the secondary autopsy, this isn’t strictly a forensics book. Sam is out of her element, more an amateur sleuth than an ME. And she is constantly at the mercy of tangled emotions, for not only is she investigating the death of her former lover and dealing with his mother, his wife and his children, she is still mourning the loss of her own husband and children who were taken from her in the Nashville floods.

It is the emotional impact of the book, rather than its mystery, that really keeps the reader engaged. (Oh, the mystery’s there, too, but for me it was definitely secondary.)

Eleanor squinted her eyes at Sam, but let it lie. Thank God. Sam was only one woman and, in her mind, not a very strong one, either. She couldn’t manage everything, all the emotions and sadness and fears and hopes, for herself and Eleanor, too. She just needed to keep treading water, and the whole world would keep spinning. At least for another round of sunsets.

And it’s not just internal grief. Sam suffers from a mild version of OCD—which manifests itself in a constant need to wash her hands—brought on by the trauma of her family’s death. This is an unusual look into the kind of issue we rarely see in otherwise go-to heroines of suspense novels.

If she could just allow herself the pent-up tears that stayed stubbornly stuck in her eyes. She understood the psychology of letting go. She just wasn’t ready to let them out of her heart. Something told her that if she cried, her loves would escape down her cheeks, drip into a tissue, and the memories of them would vanish forever.

Reality slowly seeped back in. The water was burning hot, her skin fire red. Shaking, she reached for the tap and turned it off with a twist. She’d wrecked her hands. Wrecked them completely. They were cracked and torn, bright as a wellboiled lobster, blood oozing from barely healed fissures. She wouldn’t be able to hold a scalpel properly for days.

Is that what this was all about? Punishment? That she’d been doing an autopsy while they died?

Sam is a wounded, damaged heroine. Indeed, she is almost completely broken. Watching her slowly begin to put herself back together is the true center of this novel, and it’s definitely worth reading.

Laura K. Curtis lives in Westchester, NY, with her husband and 3 dogs who’ve taught her how easily love can co-exist with the desire to kill. She blogs at Women of Mystery and maintains an online store at TorchSongs GlassWorks.  She can also be found on Twitter and poking her nose into all sorts of trouble in various spots around the web.

Read all posts by Laura K. Curtis on Criminal Element.


  1. Allison Brennan

    I was lucky enough to read this book and I LOVED IT. JT Ellison really outdid herself. I might even like Sam more than Taylor, and that’s hard!

  2. Saundra Peck

    I like the many twists to the usual procedural, I will give it a try! I like the details of personal issues, psych troubles and overcoming grief added to solving a mystery or two. Sam multitasks like we all do?

  3. Laura K. Curtis

    Sk —

    she multitasks much better than I do! But I was pleased that she wasn’t the kind of person who can do everything at once seemingly effortlessly. That just annoys me.

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