J.T. Ellison’s latest novel is somewhat of a spinoff from her popular Taylor Jackson series. It takes Jackson’s friend, medical examiner Samantha Owens, and removes her from the familiar, if not necessarily comfortable, environs of Nashville and transplants her in Washington, D.C. While the newest bead in Ellison’s string of superlative works, it’s her most ambitious --- and clearly best --- book to date.
"Ellison once again demonstrates a wide range of expert knowledge of forensics and, in this case, insider knowledge of the governmental environs of Washington, D.C.... If A DEEPER DARKNESS is the launch point for a second series, Ellison should have no problem attracting readers to both."
As A DEEPER DARKNESS opens, Sam is still reeling from the loss of her husband and children as a result of the Nashville floods in 2010. But when she receives a call from Eleanor Donovan in D.C., it seems at first that she’s trading one set of misery for another. Eleanor is the mother of Eddie Donovan, with whom Sam had a romantic relationship several years before, when they were both single. Eddie has been found dead, murdered seemingly as the result of a carjacking. Eleanor does not believe that Eddie was a seemingly random victim of crime and wants Sam to perform a second autopsy. When another murder occurs, it does not take long before a common thread is established between the two deaths. Sam honors Eleanor’s request, even as her return to Washington, and the post-mortem examination of her former lover, reopens old wounds and creates new ones.
The situation is difficult on a number of fronts. Eddie has left a family behind, and his wife is understandably somewhat upset about the interjection of her husband’s former girlfriend into the period of mourning. But the two women strike up an alliance --- albeit an uneasy one --- when Sam’s forensic examination of Eddie’s body reveals a darker reason for his murder than a carjacking. When a second D.C. murder takes place --- involving a member of Eddie’s unit in Afghanistan --- it appears that someone has a grudge they are nursing or a secret to keep. An investigation turns up additional murders, stretching from the United States to Afghanistan and back again, and seemingly tied to a reclusive ex-soldier named Xander, who has remained off the grid and secretive since his return from the war zone.
The answer to the mystery can be found in the pages that are apparently missing from Eddie’s old notebooks, which in turn were written in Latin as a way of concealing their true meaning. It seems that Eddie had a number of secrets to keep, including at least one involving Sam, with whom he ended his relationship shortly before deploying to Afghanistan. The answer to everything may lie with Eddie’s post-military service employer, a private security agency that supposedly contacted Eddie with an assignment just before his death. Sam’s contribution to the investigation may be invaluable, but it makes her increasingly vulnerable, not only emotionally but also physically, as a shadowy killer widens his circle of potential victims.
Ellison once again demonstrates a wide range of expert knowledge of forensics and, in this case, insider knowledge of the governmental environs of Washington, D.C. Having worked as a staff member for the White House and the Department of Commerce, she is as familiar with the nation’s capital as she is with her home base of Nashville, and uses this as a backdrop to a mystery that will no doubt expand her ever-growing fan base while retaining those who enjoy her Taylor Jackson series. If A DEEPER DARKNESS is the launch point for a second series, Ellison should have no problem attracting readers to both.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on May 4, 2012