Hangtown - Karen Sandler

This is the second book in a series & after the events of the first, PI Janelle Watkins is now living in a motorhome in Greenville, California. She grew up here & the land is the only thing her monster of a father ever gave her. The fact he had the decency to die first is a bonus.

She is soon caught up in the apparent suicide of a local teenage boy after finding the body. The autopsy throws up sone suspicious questions. Then a former pastor asks her to find a young man who has disappeared. At first Janelle wonders if the boy just got tired of small town life & legged it to the big city but further digging leads to a connection with the dead teen. 

Also digging is Sheriff Ken Heinz. He & Janelle have a long & complicated history. They used to be partners as cops in San Francisco. That was before they had an affair that cost Ken his marriage & before Janelle was shot, leaving her with a permanently mangled leg. They reconnected during her last case & the attraction is as strong as it ever was. Besides, he's one of the few who knows all about her little "problem".

The main thrust of the plot is the investigation into the two young men & it quickly becomes much more complex. Memories are long in small towns & old grudges soon come to light. Then a local doctor is murdered & Janelle and those close to her are threatened. The methods of attack are devious & it's clear they're dealing with an intelligent & motivated killer. 

As if that's not enough, she's been receiving creepy texts. Someone is looking for her & seems to know all about her sordid past. There was a time when she dealt with years of abuse by engaging in anonymous & often violent sex. Her relationship with Ken is still fragile & she'd rather not let him in on the details. But she may not have a choice.

It's a fast paced read & the author employs some subtle misdirection to keep you guessing as to the identity of the killer(s). There are several peripheral characters of note but the story belongs to Ken & Janelle.

These are two people with a lot on their plates. Janelle is wounded physically & emotionally by her past & has the scars to prove it. Smart & stronger than she knows, she can't help feeling Ken would be better off without her little pandora's box of issues. He disagrees. He hates what happened to her (and what she does to herself) but for him, it was never just an affair. Now that she's back in Greenville, he's determined to make her stay.

After the first book, I thought Janelle was one of the most original & interesting characters I've come across in a long time. It's so refreshing to encounter a female protagonist who's not either a weeping damsel in distress or moonlights as a supermodel. Her back story as a victim of abuse & subsequent fight to have a real life adds depth to her character & you can't help rooting for her as she takes small steps toward some much deserved happiness.

This can be read as a stand alone as the author provides enough history for the story lines carried over from book #1. But if this one catches your eye, I'd recommend beginning with "Clean Burn". It's a great read & you'll have the full 411 before starting this. I look forward to the next one.