Fresh Meat: Bleeding Through by Sandra Parshall

Bleeding Through by Sandra Parshall is the fifth book in the Rachel Goddard traditional mystery series (available September 4, 2012).

When veterinarian Rachel Goddard and Deputy Sheriff Tom Bridger take teenagers on an outing to clean up roadside trash in rural Mason County, Virginia, they make a grisly discovery: the plastic-wrapped body of a young woman—the sister of one of the teens.

During Tom’s investigation, questions arise. Was it random, or was she killed because she was working to prove that a Mason County man was wrongly convicted of murder? If an innocent man was convicted, then the real murderer must be free—and ready to kill to stay that way.

Rachel is coping with a visit from her own sister, Michelle, who is terrified that a man is stalking her.  Is the mysterious stalker real and dangerous? Will he turn his attention to Rachel too?

Though Bleeding Through by Sandra Parshall is the fifth book in the Rachel Goddard series, I didn’t have any trouble getting into the story, even when events of the previous mysteries in the series surfaced. Parshall did a great job of making the past events not only interesting but relevant to the current story.

The novel opens with an emotionally gripping scene that reminded me, just a little, of the opening of the television series Twin Peaks: a group of high school students are out picking up litter when they discover the plastic-wrapped body of a young woman—unfortunately, it turns out that she’s the sister of one of the students in the group.

Rather than linger on the shock value of this visual, Parshall focuses on the widespread emotional consequences of the murder, both to the girl’s family and to the community at large. Bit by bit, acting sheriff Tom Bridger uncovers a myriad of connections between the victim, her family, and two other families, one of whom has a son in prison, having been convicted of murdering the son of the other. The murders continue to have long-reaching consequences.

“What does her work with the Innocence Project have to do with her death?” Rachel asked.

“She was making people mad by trying to get Vance Lankford out of prison. This whole county believes he’s guilty, he killed that guy. I tried to talk her out of taking on a local case involving people she knew, because I figured she’d get a lot of blowback. There were other cases she could’ve taken on. I should have made her listen to me.”

“Oh, Ben.” Rachel sighed and rubbed his back. “Don’t look for ways to make yourself feel bad. If somebody died of food poisoning at that soup kitchen you support, would you feel responsible? No, don’t answer that. Of course you would.”

“So would you. We’re just alike that way, and you know it.”

Meanwhile, veterinarian Rachel Goddard, Tom Bridger’s partner, is dealing with issues from her troubled past, some of which have resurfaced in response to the murder.

Ben’s voice choked up again. “They can say goodbye now. Never knowing would have been a hell of a lot worse.”

Rachel didn’t answer. Ben had no idea how close to the bone his words cut. Although he’d been a friend since childhood, he didn’t know the truth about her life, the secret she lived with. Every day for the past month, with all of Mason County obsessed with Shelley’s fate, pictures of her smiling face posted everywhere, Rachel had been forced to think about the special brand of torment that followed a child’s disappearance. For some parents, answers never came. Parents like Rachel’s own.

To complicate matters, Rachel’s sister Michelle arrives, trying to hide from a mysterious stalker. Their complex family history further deepens the emotional stakes and forces Rachel to juggle her feelings for Tom with those she has for her sister, as well as dealing with the actions of the stalker and with a disturbing reminder of her past, a Fairfax County detective whom she’s encountered before. Her problems and Tom’s case begin to intertwine as Michelle’s stalker becomes more dangerous. Their interactions make both cases equally intriguing.

“I’m not trying to hand this over to you to fix,” Rachel protested. “You have enough to do without taking on Michelle’s problems.”

“Yeah, right, your sister’s being stalked and you want me to forget I’m a cop and ignore it.” Tom grinned, and the chill in the air between them gave way to a familiar warmth.

Though this was my first Parshall mystery, I’d be happy to read another. The interplay between the various mysteries, along with the rounded characters and emotional depth, made for a page-turning read.

See more coverage of new releases in our Fresh Meat series.

Victoria Janssen is the author of three novels and numerous short stories.  Her World War I-set Spice Brief, “Under Her Uniform,” is a tie-in to her novel The Moonlight Mistress. Follow her on Twitter: @victoriajanssen or find out more at

Read all posts by Victoria Janssen for Criminal Element.

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