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Detective Tess McCrae investigates a grisly crime scene in the ghost town of Credo, Arizona. To an ordinary investigator, the evidence suggests a cartel drug hit. But Tess, with a nearly faultless photographic memory, is far from ordinary, and she sees what others might miss: this is no drug killing. Someone went to gruesome lengths to cover up this crime.
The killer’s trail leads Tess from Tucson to California; from anti-government squatters in the Arizona mountains to the heights of wealthy society, including the rich and powerful DeKoven family, who've dominated Arizona commerce and politics since the 1800s. But as Tess follows the trail of gore and betrayal, perfect and indelible in her memory, she uncovers far more than one man’s murder, and solves much more than one isolated crime.
I received this book for free from in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Review by Travis Starnes
The Survivors Club is a fairly classic detective story set in Arizona near the border between the US and Mexico. While investigating an apparent drug cartel murder detective Tess McCrae begins to see a disturbing pattern.
As mysteries go this one is solid. It has pretty much everything you could ask for from a “who done it” and avoids a lot of the pit falls I have seen in other mysteries lately. The mystery itself is very well conceived. There is just enough information to keep you guessing but a tough enough puzzle that you don’t figure it out till the very end. I particularly liked how the various murders were all connected together and I doubled back on my guess several times as parts of the story were revealed.
J. Carsen Black is not an author I was familiar with prior to reading this book, but she certainly has a deft hand at story telling. Her writing flows naturally and the story progresses at a fairly even pace, at least until the very end. She also managed to avoid the pitfall of trying too hard to keep the villains in shadow. While you go about half the book before the culprits start getting unveiled, that first half doesn’t feel convoluted. I have seen other mysteries where the author twists the story in knots to tell what is going on without revealing who the bad guy is. Thankful when the story goes far enough to require the villains to step up Black allows them to act in the clear rather than artificially keep their identities secret. My one complaint about how this story is written is the end of the climax and the denuma. The story was so well paced until the end that when it came time to wrap everything up it felt incredibly rushed. The ended felt pretty unsatisfactory and left me wanting more, but in a bad way. Not wanting “another book” more but rather “where are the last 15 pages” more.
The characters are decently interesting and well-conceived. I was impressed that while Black gave the lead the standard “amazing ability”, she then didn’t keep hitting that over and over again. Her gifts felt more like texture rather than a contrived story device that predictably plays out in act three. I was happy to see that level of restraint in an author. The villains are appropriately evil, although perhaps a little to evil, and the rest of the cast were fairly two dimensional. That isn’t really a knock against Black however. This is not a terribly long book and there wasn’t enough room to both flesh out the full cast and tell a compelling story. If this ever becomes part of a Tess McCrae series then I would hope to see her friends and colleagues get more attention.
Overall I completely enjoyed this story. This is the perfect example of what I call “airport book rack” reading. It’s the kind of book you can pick up on the way to your gate and finish off by the time you get to your hotel. Unlike much of that category however, this is a good example of it. If enjoy mystery or detective style novels then this is the book for you.