Deadline - K.A. Tracy Ten years as a top crime reporter in L.A. has left Sam Tracy sick of the violence and death. A lucrative movie-rights deal on a book she wrote allows her to move to Palm Springs in semi-retirement where she now works for a dinky advertising and coupon-laden weekly that only puts out a paper on weekends.

But six months on with nothing more exciting to 'investigate' than rigged bingo games and flea infestations, Sam finds herself longing for that old, familiar adrenaline rush that only a 'real' crime can bring. When a murder turns up in the otherwise laid-back resort town, it doesn't take long for Sam to decide to jump back in the fray.

What follows is a taut and gripping investigation of a murder that keeps on turning up more questions than answers the deeper Sam digs into it. As the suspect list grows, so does the seeming complexity of the case. Sam knows the best explanation is often the simplest. But the simplest just doesn't work in this case.

The thing I admired most about this book was how it doesn't waste the reader's time. A third of the way in and I was thinking, if only all authors were this efficient, I could probably read a whole lot more books. :) I haven't felt this way about a book in a long time honestly. The relatively recent development of associating word count with ebook value and pricing and the absence of any effort at editing (or too lax editing, sadly even in top publishing houses) has unfortunately resulted in books that make readers sit through too much filler just to get to the good parts. And what is supposed to be a relaxing, pleasurable exercise has become something of a chore. We readers are a patient and forgiving lot. Well, I am, lol. And yeah, we're not exactly spoilt for choice in this genre. So when a gem like this book comes along, it's such a pleasant surprise. The other thing that I loved about the book was how the author never needed to 'tell' us about her characters. We know Sam is smart, dogged, devious and reckless because we see her being so.

It's always best to get into these kinds of books knowing as little as possible, so if you like lesbian mysteries with a romanctic subplot, read no further. Suffice it to say that the writing is excellent. The lead characters have great chemistry and enjoy some sparkling repartee. The case is deliciously (and sometimes frustratingly) complex and well-constructed. And just when you think you've finally figured it out, the author springs another twist on the unsuspecting reader.

In between Sam's urgent but methodical quest for answers (reporter's got deadlines!), the book also deals with some familiar issues: questioning one's sexuality, coming-out-late-in-life, mental and drug issues, and past trauma. The last one in particular may be uncomfortable or even disturbing for sensitive readers.

Even though the romance is not the main theme of the book, it was a far more interesting read for me than some full-on romance books. The scenes featuring the leads together are easily my favorite parts of the book. Another noteworthy aspect is how the book dealt with Sam's sexuality. Despite the investigative focus of the book, this issue was actually very well fleshed out and realistically treated.

Things do get dizzyingly confusing towards the end, though not the main murder mystery itself, but one of the other ones (there are at least three mysteries that needed unraveling!). I wonder how much coffee was expended to tie everything together and wrap it all up. :)

4.5 stars

Edit: I do have some issues with the big reveal. I'm very tempted to reduce the rating because of it. But it's a plot issue so I'm gonna think on it some more. Major spoilers ahead. I can't believe Nell and Elise both left Elizabeth in the hands of that rapist--and not just for a while, but forever it seemed. They must have known he would go after her. And they just abandoned her with that animal! It's sickening, to say the least. I lost some of my respect for Elise after that, even if it was just the teenage Elise. Also, I'm not sure how Elise never figures that her daughter is an addict or has other issues. Unless she wasn't paying attention. That smacked of a dysfunctional family right there. In fact, a typical showbiz dysfunction, due to her celebrity and now politician status. What is Sam getting herself into, I wonder? And how does Annie even function as a volunteer, and a seemingly responsible one at that, if she's so drug-addled and sex-addicted? So like all misfits, Annie will be shunted to the usual hush-hush therapy and rehab. But maybe what she really needs is some attention from Mommy? Maybe Sam might make a better Mom. Who knows? :)

Also, the whole Lena Riley subplot feels like a unneeded complication. Now that I've had more time to analyze things, I don't really see how she impacts things except to serve as Elise' validation that she's a lesbian, or she's just a plot device to spice things up? maybe keep Sam on her toes, lol. Or maybe because we just don't have enough info from Lena's point of view on why she's still hanging around Elise after all this time. Something else just popped into my brain. Why isn't Lena doing anything to help Annie. Shouldn't she be the one protecting her instead of that creep Phil Atkins, since Lena knows every single secret. Doesn't she feel the least bit of guilt getting Elise away from the rapist but leaving Elise's cousin behind? A sordid mess indeed. Just my thoughts, imho.