Monday, September 25, 2017

Before It's Too Late by Sara Driscoll: Reading Room Review

Reading the second book in a new series is always an exciting and somewhat anxious experience. If the first book in the series has captured your interest, you are in a state of high and hopeful anticipation. Will #2 solidify the series or not? Well, the new F.B.I. K-9 series by Sara Driscoll (aka Jen J. Danna and Ann Vanderlaan) is definitely on solid ground, with Before It's Too Late, the second book, hitting all the right marks for success. Not only do readers enjoy a fast paced, thrilling race against the clock, unfamiliar history of Civil War sites and associated people is brilliantly woven into each search and rescue attempt. 

F.B.I. Special Agent Meg Jennings and her search-and-rescue Labrador, Hawk, face one impossible challenge after another in this story. A service dog has been found wandering in a D.C. park with a note stuck in its waste bag carrier. The note is addressed to Meg, and the rest of it is in code. The service dog's owner has been kidnapped and will die if Meg, Hawk, and the rest of her K-9 team don't figure out the clues and find her before time runs out. With the help of the F.B.I.'s Cryptanalysis Unit, the code is deciphered and a location is determined from the cryptic clues, clues that point to a Civil War connection. Sandy Holmes, a veteran of the second Iraq War is buried alive somewhere in Arlington Cemetery, waiting to be rescued. Meg, Hawk, and the team work fervently to locate the correct grave site, and it is amazing to read how competently they arrive at the answers leading to the victim. But, time is not on their side, and this victim has only recently expired. Meg and the others are, of course, devastated. 

However, there isn't a chance to dwell on the death of Sandy Holmes, as the code-taunting killer strikes again, another kidnapping and another race against the clock to save another female victim. This pattern will be repeated, a message addressed to Meg and a code to crack in time to save a life. The messages to Meg are not the only unsettling link between these kidnappings and Meg. After the second discovery, Meg and her teammate Brian notice an eerie similarity between the victims' physical appearance and Meg's. Something is horribly personal about these crimes, and Meg must go outside the protocols of her job to get a handle on and a jump on the madman's game. With the help of her sister Cara, who is an expert at solving puzzles and word games, and Meg's reporter friend, Clay McCord, an expert on Civil War knowledge, Meg begins to feel some hope in catching up to the unhinged mind of a ruthless killer. If she is successful, Meg's career might survive her unorthodox methods, but if she isn't, her life and the lives of those she cares about are in danger of forever being scarred. 

This new crime series by Jen Danna and Ann Vanderlaan is such a distinct entry into the world of crime/mystery writing. Search-and-rescue dogs are highly trained animals who, working in sync with their human partners, are amazingly effective in rescue and/or recovery. I find the interaction between the dog and the human fascinating, as well as their success at the job. The authors have blended story, character, and setting into gripping accounts of high stake, life and death moments. Before It's Too Late is edge-of-your-seat reading at its best. 

I received an advanced reader's copy of this book, and my review is an honest, unbiased one.

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