Clean Burn by Karen Sandler (Exhibit A, August 2013)-Janelle Watkins is a San Francisco P.I. and ex-cop that thought she’d given up pursuing missing child cases, but when a former client comes in with news of a missing boy, Janelle finds it nearly impossible to say no. Unfortunately, the case takes her to rural Greenville County and forces her to work with ex-partner and ex-lover Ken Heinz, who is now the Greenville County Sheriff. They didn’t end things on good terms (his wife walking in on them didn’t help matters), but Janelle undeniably still has feelings for Heinz, and as much of a cold shoulder as he gives off, he’s still got feelings for her too. Tracking down these kids won’t be easy, but soon Janelle realizes that she has more in common with the kidnapper than she’s comfortable with, and fighting her own demons may prove to be too much.
If you’re diving into Clean Burn expecting light and fluffy, you’re barking up the wrong tree, although, since it is about missing kids, you probably didn’t think that, right? Janelle herself certainly isn’t light and fluffy. In fact, she’s quite tortured and actually, self harms. See, her childhood wasn’t a happy one, and while we do get glimpses of her past throughout the novel, I’m hoping we’ll learn more in future books. Janelle is caustic and self deprecating, but she cares fiercely for these kids that she’s been tasked with finding, and it’s that fierceness that drives the narrative of this tense, suspenseful, and yes, even sexy thriller. In Clean Burn, fire is more than just the balm in which Janelle calms herself, it’s the basis for the spate of child abductions that she and Heinz are investigating. Janelle’s voice is interspersed with snippets of the kidnappers, and it’s just enough to give you the creeps and make you hope for a swift resolution that finds the kids safe and sound. When things start coming together, they come together fast, so hold on tight. I couldn’t help but like Janelle, in spite of her prickly demeanor, and she really doesn’t know her own strength, but that just makes her more endearing. Clean Burn is an intriguing start to a new suspense series, and in Janelle Watkins, features a heroine to root for.