Fresh Meat: Every Hidden Fear by Linda Rodriguez

Every Hidden Fear by Linda Rodriguez is the third mystery in the Skeet Bannion series about the Missouri campus police officer who must prove her son's friend didn't commit murder, even though her boss is quick to believe he did (available May 6, 2014).

In Every Hidden Fear, the third outing for Skeet Bannion, Linda Rodriguez’s half-Cherokee cop, bad boy Ash Mowbray returns to Brewster, Missouri. He has been hired by Walker Lynch, a nemesis of Skeet and someone she has sworn to take down, to push forward a controversial mall project. Passions already run hot over the proposed mall and Ash’s arrival further inflames feelings. The son of worthless parents, Ash had left town under a cloud:

“You! I remember you, Ashton Mowbray!” Bea’s voice was loud, with a hard, mean ring to it. “Son of a drug-dealing crook and a drunken whore. A charity case all your life. We all remember who you are. White trash of the worst sort. A bad seed. You ran away from here, where people knew who you were, but you couldn’t leave that behind. You still carry your dirtiness with you, no matter how much money you have now.”

Ash seems more interested in settling old scores than the mall and threatens to tell secrets about the important people in Brewster.

“You crusty old bitch!” Ash’s voice blared out so loudly that the entire dining room turned to stare. The hostess was hurrying to reach the back of the dining room now. “Don’t forget, I know the secrets of this crummy town, too. I know which upstanding citizens liked a little dope from my old man or a little slap and tickle from my mom—and which old ladies liked a young boy’s body in their beds after he mowed their lawns and got all hot and sweaty.” Bea gasped, and her eyes widened in shock at his words. “Better keep your mouth shut, old woman, or you’ll get more than you bargained for.” He’d all but come out and accused Bea of seducing him when he was a kid, and everyone was staring wide-eyed.

His threats culminate in a public revelation about the wife of one of Brewster’s most important citizens. After a violent and confrontational town meeting, Ash turns up dead, his head bashed in by a golf club. The clues scattered around his lifeless body incriminate several different people from the town, one of them a boy who is a friend to Skeet’s adopted son Brian. He and Angie, his good friend, beg Skeet to investigate. Skeet responds:

“Calm down, Brian. And tell Angie to cool it, as well. Noah’s not been arrested. They’re just questioning him. After all, he had a huge public run-in with Ash just before the murder. It’s standard operating procedure. They’ll pull in others who were mad at Ash, like Bea and Peter, too.”

At first, Skeet refuses to investigate, but she begins to wonder why Joe, her sheriff friend, has been so quick to lay the blame upon Noah and not follow the other leads:

I was a little surprised that Joe had taken in Noah to question rather than just asking him what he wanted at home. Usually, you didn’t take someone in to the station for questioning unless you thought they’d done it and wanted to put pressure on them, but it was way too early for that in this investigation.

As the situation goes from bad to worse, she eventually breaks down and agrees to look into the death, finding the solution in a long ago tale of heartbreak. She solves several other lesser mysteries along the way.

My favorite parts of this intriguing mystery are the characters—each one is well rounded, with pasts and secrets of their own. I love Gran, “Her Toughness”, a touchstone of common sense and good advice. But it is Skeet and her conflicted relationships with the men in her life that I find especially captivating.

Skeet has never recovered from the hurt suffered at the hands of her ex-husband, Sam:

I’d made a mess of my own love life, marrying an exciting, handsome fellow cop, who made me laugh and thrill with passion, only to find that he couldn’t handle a strong woman who made a success of her career and that he had to manage his fears by being verbally abusive and sexually unfaithful.

Then there’s her friend Joe, the Sheriff who wants to bring their friendship to another level:

I saw Joe Louzon, Brewster’s chief of police, walking toward me. I gave a little moan of my own. He’d asked me to have lunch with him that day at the Clubhouse, and I’d been happy to claim a previous commitment. You’d think he’d have known I’d never agree to go to lunch, just the two of us. That would feel too much like a date, something I was definitely not doing.

Joe is jealous of Terry, an ex-Special Forces employee of Walker Lynch, but Skeet doesn’t want to admit she is attracted to him.

And finally Skeet is still struggling with her feelings for Charlie, her father:

Charlie and I were too alike to be good together. We inevitably ended up in screaming matches. It was hard to believe sometimes that I’d idolized this man throughout my childhood and adolescence and hated my mother for his sake. Heck, I’d become a cop as a way of trying to be like my beloved father, Big Charlie Bannion. Our adult relationship had soon shown me the ugly side of his alcoholism and sexism, but it had taken me years to break free of his influence over me. Now, we could hardly be in the same room without fighting.

After the ending to Every Hidden Secret, I can hardly wait to find out what happens next.

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Eleanor Kuhns is the 2011 winner of the Mystery Writers of America/Minotaur Books First Crime Novel Competition. A career librarian, her most recent historical mystery featuring Will Rees, a Revolutionary War veteran turned weaver is Death of a Dyer. She lives in New York.

Read all posts by Eleanor Kuhns for Criminal Element.

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