Traces of Guilt by Dee Henderson

Disclaimer: Traces of Guilt, by Dee Henderson, was provided by Bethany House in exchange for an honest review.

Evie Blackwell loves her life as an Illinois State Police detective…mostly. She’s very skilled at investigations and has steadily moved up through the ranks. She would like to find Mr. Right, but she has a hard time imagining how marriage could work, considering the demands of her job. Gabriel Thane grew up in Carin County and is now its sheriff, a job he loves. Gabe is committed to upholding the law and cares deeply for the residents he’s sworn to protect. He too would like to find a lifetime companion, a marriage like his parents have….When Evie arrive in Carin, Illinois, it’s to help launch a new task force focused on unsolved crimes across the state. She will work with the sheriff’s department on a couple of its most troubling missing-persons cases. As she studies old evidence to pull out a few tenuous new leads, she unearths surprising connections. One way or another, she knows Gabriel Thane and his family well be key to the answers she seeks.

One major thing stopped Traces of Guilt from being a very good, though surprisingly dark, suspense mystery novel—Henderson’s penchant to tell, not show, characterization through the sermonizing of other characters. This book is long, and about 1/3 of it could have been trimmed down if Ann, one of the characters, had a few less sermons disguised as conversations, and a little more of what she was telling us characters were feeling had been woven into that character’s actions and feelings instead.

Henderson wants us to feel the pain that Grace and Karen feel, but because most of their development is told through the mouth of Ann or another character, they just feel like dead weight in a book that starts to plod 1/3 of the way in. After only the second pages-long “Ann discussion,” I knew that my liking of the book would be in fits and starts, much like the development of the main mystery.

I was pleasantly surprised, though, that while the blurb indicates romance between Evie and Gabriel, there really isn’t any. The book ends with them as friends, and nothing else, though they both consider what it would be like to be together. The content in this book means that even Henderson’s attempts at romance don’t mesh very well—or perhaps it’s just the writing style that makes everything seem stilted.

I’m a bit confused as to why some of the questions raised in the Florist family case never got resolved. Who killed Frank Ash? Was Grace’s uncle’s death really a hunting accident? Maybe Henderson’s point was that some questions are bound to remain unsolved, but in a mystery novel where the characters spend a lot of time thinking about these questions, it feels strange just to leave them unanswered. Or maybe I like a bit more resolution for my questions.

In fits and starts, Traces of Guilt is a good mystery suspense novel, but Ann’s constant “let me tell you about this character and then give you life advice” annoyed me to no end, making a long book seem even longer and detracting attention away from the much better mystery aspect.

My rating: 3/5

Warnings: Murder, sexual abuse.

Genre: Mystery, Suspense, Realistic, Christian

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