This review is based on a complimentary book I received from NetGalley. It is an honest and voluntary review. The complimentary receipt of it in no way affected my review or rating.Flame in the Dark by Faith Hunter
Series: Soulwood #3
Also in this series:Blood of the Earth, Curse on the Land
Also by this author: Blood of the Earth, Curse on the Land, Cold Reign
Genres: Fantasy, Paranormal, Urban Fantasy
Release Date: December 5, 2017
Publisher: Ace Books
Format: ARC, E-book
Purchase at: Amazon ◊ Barnes & Noble ◊ Book Depository ◊ Google Play ◊ Kobo ◊ IndieBound ◊ Audible
Set in the same world as Faith Hunter’s New York Times bestselling Jane Yellowrock novels, the third, thrilling Soulwood novel stars Nell Ingram, who draws her powers from deep within the earth.
Nell Ingram has always known she was different. Since she was a child, she’s been able to feel and channel ancient powers from deep within the earth. When she met Jane Yellowrock, her entire life changed, and she was recruited into PsyLED—the Homeland Security division that polices paranormals. But now her newly formed unit is about to take on its toughest case yet.
A powerful senator barely survives an assassination attempt that leaves many others dead—and the house he was visiting burns to the ground. Invisible to security cameras, the assassin literally disappears, and Nell’s team is called in. As they track a killer they know is more—or less—than human, they unravel a web of dark intrigue and malevolent motives that tests them to their limits and beyond.
Flame in the Dark was such a fun read for me! I love the paranormal investigation team PSYLed Unit 18 and in this story, they are back and in full swing. This story starts out smack dab in the middle of an investigation. There had just been a shooting at a senator’s house and Nell is cutting her teeth as a full-fledged probationary paranormal investigator. Nell is officially done with spook school and although just a probie, she is being brought in and given tasks that probie’s usually do not receive. As she and her team members track the person or persons responsible for the assassination attempts on a certain U.S. Senator and his family, it quickly becomes clear that there is a malicious force in play and they will stop at nothing to see their objective achieved. This is a non-stop action story that will capture your attention from beginning to end!
I loved that there was some real progress with all the characters from PSYLed Unit 18 in this book, not just Nell. There was also a betrayal that no one saw coming and that was a bit of a shocker. It also explained a lot about the “choices” a certain male character made and maybe would change a few hearts for fans of the Jane Yellowrock series who were pretty pissed at that character. At the start of the first book in this series, Blood of the Earth, Nell’s character explains how she has a friendship with Jane Yellowrock’s character from the Jane Yellowrock series. They are still in communication and I liked that parts of Flame in the Dark coincide with the latest release in the Jane Yellowrock series, Cold Reign. I had read that story and felt like Flame in the Dark really opened up for me in ways as I knew exactly what had happened to Rick LaFleur while he was away in New Orleans.
I enjoy all the characters in this book but besides Nell, Occam is my favorite. There has always been something that seemed to be developing between Nell and Occam but it has been very subtle and one could question if there was anything at all. Well, not anymore, there have been declarations made in this story and it definitely made my heart go pitter patter! Now I am not saying that much progress was made but I am saying that it is clear who wants what and it had a smile plastered on my face for sure. But Occam apparently is not the only one vying for Nell’s affections as her family has taken it upon themselves to introduce her to a “suitable” man. Although there is a slight romance angle in this story it is by no means the focus, there is quite a mystery that involves some supernatural creatures that appear to have been previously unidentified and were now causing havoc.
Flame in the Dark is the third book in the Soulwood series and this is a series that I have absolutely enjoyed. It is a solidly written story filled with all the details a girl like me could love! I was able to clearly see each scene as intended and as a reader I was completely a part of the investigation. I love that!! Each book is better than the previous one and I love how Nell’s character has developed and grown. Nell has finally come to terms with her break from the church and has been able to fully shed her churchwoman persona. She had even started experimenting with what it was that she really wanted. Nell has grown on me as a character and I want more of her. There were many personal issues that had been plaguing Nell throughout this series that are put to rest in Flame in the Dark and I felt how they were handled was very cool and quite satisfying. I highly recommend this book and this series!
*Thank you to Netgalley & Berkley Publishing Group for this eARC of Flame in the Dark*
Excerpt from Flame in the Dark:
I walked the length of Turtle Point Lane near Jones Cove, my tactical flash illuminating the street and the ditch, trying to keep my eyes off the lawn and runnel of water and mature trees to the side. I should be in the trees, not here in the street, wasting my gifts on asphalt. I hated asphalt. To my touch, it was cold and dead and it stank of tar and gasoline.
But the K9 teams had dibs on the grass and were already in the backyard, the mundane tracker dog and the paranormal tracker dog, with their handlers, and lights so bright they hurt my eyes when I looked that way. As a paranormal investigator, I had to wait until the human and canine investigators were finished, so my scent didn’t confuse the Para-K9s. Standard operating procedure and forensic protocol. But that didn’t mean I had to like it.
Armed special weapons and tactics team—SWAT—officers, on loan from the city, patrolled the boundaries of the grounds, dressed in tactical gear and toting automatic rifles. Knoxville’s rural/metro fire department patrolled inside the house along with uniformed cops, suited detectives, and federal and state agents in this multiagency emergency investigation.
The PsyLED SAC—special agent in charge of Unit Eighteen, and my boss—had put me to work on menial stuff to keep me off the grass and out of the way until the dogs were completely done. As a probationary agent, I did what I was told. Most of the time.
My steps were slow and deliberate, my eyes taking in everything. Crushed cigarette butts stained by yesterday’s rain, soggy leaves, broken auto safety glass in tiny pellets, flattened aluminum cans in the brush and a depression: an energy drink and a lite beer. A gum box. Nothing new, from the last twenty-four hours. I was surprised at the amount of detritus on a street with such upmarket houses. Maybe the county had no street sweeper machine, or maybe the worst of the filth ended up hidden in the weeds, hard to see, mak- ing the street appear cleaner than it really was. Life was like that too, with lots of secrets hidden from sight.
I had already searched the entire street with the psy-meter 2.0, and put the bulky device in the truck. There were no odd levels of paranormal energies anywhere. A small spike on level four at the edge of the drive, but it went away. An anomaly. The psy-meter 2.0 measured four different kinds of paranormal energies called psysitopes, and the patterns could indicate a were-creature, a witch, an arcenciel, and even Welsh gwyllgi—shape-shifting devil dogs. I had nothing yet, but I needed onto the lawn to do a proper reading. I’d get my wish. Eventually.
I searched the area around a Lexus. Then a short row of BMWs. I took photos of each vehicle plate and sent them to JoJo, Unit Eighteen’s second in command and best IT person, to cross-check the plate numbers with the guest list. The air was frigid and I was frozen, even though I was wearing long underwear, flannel-lined slacks, layered T-shirts, a heavy jacket, wool socks, and field boots. But then, along with uniformed county officers, I’d been at the grounds search for two hours, since the midnight call yanked me out of my nice warm bed and onto the job at a PsyLED crime scene. Field examination was scut work, the bane of all probie spe- cial agents, and we had found nothing on the street or drive- way that might relate to the crime at the überfancy house on a cove of the Tennessee River.
To make me more miserable, because I had drunk down a half gallon of strong coffee, I had to use the ladies’, pretty desperately. I stared at the Holloways’ house, trying to figure out what to do. “I just went to the back door and knocked,” a voice said. I whirled. I’d been so intent that I hadn’t heard her walk up. A young female sheriff’s deputy grinned at me. “Sorry. Didn’t mean to startle you,” she said.
“Oh. It’s okay.” But it wasn’t. I was jumpy and ill at ease for reasons I didn’t understand. There were woods with fairly mature trees all around, water in the cove nearby, and well- maintained lawns the length of the street, all full of life that should have made me feel at home. Instead I was jumpy. All that coffee maybe. “I’m Nell. Special Agent Ingram.” I put out my hand and the woman shook it, businesslike.
“You don’t remember me,” she said, “but we met at the hospital during the outbreak of the slime molds back a few weeks. You gave me your keys and let my partner and me get unis out of your vehicle. I never got the chance to thank you. May Ree Holler, and my partner, Chris Skeeter.” She pointed to a taller, skinny man up the road.
“Your mother escaped from God’s Cloud of Glory Church, like I did,” I said, referring to the polygamous church I grew up in. “I remember. Her name was Carla, right?”
May Ree grinned at me, seeming happy that I remem- bered. “That’s my mama. Hard as nails and twice as strong.” She indicated the dark all around. “Us females always get it the worst on these jobs. The male deputies can just go in the woods, but it isn’t so easy for women. The caterer let me in to use the bathroom. Even gave me a pastry.” May Ree was short and sturdy with a freckled face, brown hair, and wear- ing her uniform tight, showing off curves. She had a self- assuredness I would never achieve. Her hair was cropped short for safety in close-combat situations, but her lips were full and scarlet in the reflected glare from my flash, and she was fully made up with mascara and blush, even at the un- godly hour. “Go on. And if they offer you something to eat, bring me another one of those pink iced squares. I missed supper.”
“I will. Thanks,” I said. If I couldn’t get her one I’d give her a snack from my truck when I came back out, presuming the bread wasn’t frozen. Still moving my flash back and forth, covering my square yard with each pass, I walked from the street, up the drive, and to the back door, where I snapped off the light. I thought about knocking, but I had learned it was easier to apologize than to get permission. Not a lesson I had learned at the church where I was raised, but one I had learned since coming to work with PsyLED. I might get fussed at or written up, but no one would punish me for an infraction, like the churchmen did to the churchwomen.
Opening the door, I slid the flash into its sheath and stepped inside. The warmth and the smell of coffee hit me like a fist. I unbuttoned my jacket so my badge would show and blinked into the warmth. My frozen face felt as if it might melt and slide off onto the marble tile floor. I breathed for a few moments and tried to unclench my fingers. My skin ached. My teeth hurt.
The arctic front had no regard for global warming. It had hit, decided it liked the Tennessee Valley, and decided to stay. This was the second week of frigid temps. Snow I liked. This, not at all.
Once the worst of the personal melting was done, I looked around. The kitchen was empty, a room constructed of stone in various shades of gray on the floor and the cabinet tops and the backsplash. The owners must have taken down a whole mountain to get this much polished rock. The ceiling was vaulted with whitish wooden rafters and joists. Cabinets with the same kind of treated whitish wood rose ten feet high. A ladder that slid on a bronze rail was in the corner. The stove was gas with ten burners and a copper faucet over the stovetops, which looked handy unless one had a grease fire and thought to use water to put it out. There was a commercial-sized coffeemaker with a huge pot half-full, two big, double-glass-door refrigerators, and a separate massive two-door freezer. I spotted the small powder room off the kitchen and raced into it before anyone could come in and tell me to get outside and use the trees.
I was one of maybe twenty-five law enforcement officers and investigators from the various law enforcement branches and agencies called in to the shooting at the Holloway home. The FBI was here to rule out terrorism because a U.S. senator had been at the private political fund-raiser when the shooting started.
PsyLED—the Psychometry Law Enforcement Division of Homeland Security—was here because a vampire had been on-site too. The fire department was here because there had been a small fire. The local sheriff’s LEOs were here because it was their jurisdiction.
Crime scene investigators were here because there were three dead bodies on the premises, though not the senator— he was shaken up but fine. The grounds search was because the shooter had come and gone on foot. It was complicated. But dead and wounded VIPs meant a lot of police presence and a shooting to solve, especially since the shooter got away clean.
When I came back out, the kitchen was still empty and I decided a bit more of the “ask permission later” was called for. Most anything was better than going back outside to search the road and paved areas for clues into a crime I had not been informed about. Two automatic dishwashers were running softly. The pastries were taped under waxed paper, including little pink iced squares. May Ree would be disap- pointed. There were four ovens, and all but one was still warm to the touch. I inspected the planters under the win- dows. At first glance they appeared to be full of herbs—basil, rosemary, thyme, and lemongrass—but the leaves were silk. Which was weird in a kitchen that looked as if someone loved to cook.
Trying to look as if I belonged, I wandered through a butler’s pantry, complete with coffee bar, wet bar with doz- ens of decanters and bottles, and wine in a floor-to-ceiling special refrigerator. Beyond the butler’s pantry, stairs went up on one side and down on the other, proving that the house had multiple levels, not just the two obvious from the outside. Picking up on the smell of smoke and scorched furnishings was easy here.
I stayed on the main level and meandered into a formal dining room on one side of the entry. There was more stone here too, and wood in the vaulted ceilings. The twelve-foot
long dining table was set for a party, though I didn’t recog- nize any of the food except the whole salmon and the tenderloin of beef. It seemed a shame to let the food go to waste when May Ree was hungry, but there was blood on the floor in the doorway, leading from the back of the house to here. Since there was blood, the food itself might be evi- dence, so I kept my hands to myself and stepped carefully.
I had seen EMS units racing away as I drove up, so I knew there had been casualties, but seeing blood was unsettling. My gift rose up inside me, as if it was curious. Not trying to drink the blood down, not yet, because I wasn’t outside, my hands buried in the earth, but more like a mouser cat who sees movement and crouches, trying to decide if this is some- thing worth hunting.
A formal living room decorated with a Christmas tree and presents and fake electric candles in the windows was on the other side of the entry. It had real wood floors and a ten-foot ceiling with one of those frame things set in the middle to give it even more height. Maybe called a tray ceil- ing; I wasn’t sure. Life in the church hadn’t prepared me with a good grasp of architectural terminology. The entire room felt stiff and uncomfortable to me, maybe due to the fact that all the plants were fake. Fancy tables, tassels on heavy drapes, carved lamps, furniture that looked showroom-fresh. This wasn’t a place to kick up your feet.
The room was full of people in fancy dress, and oddly, I knew two of them, Ming of Glass, the vampire Master of the City, and her bodyguard, a vamp I knew only as Yummy. Yummy flashed me a grin, one without fangs, which was nice, but she mouthed, Opossum, at me, which was a tease I didn’t really need. I mouthed back, Ha‑ha. Not. Yummy laughed.
All but three of the partygoers in the room looked irritated—two vamps and a human. Vamps tended to expressionless faces unless they were irritated or hungry, both of which were a sign of danger. The human was sitting on an ottoman, and he looked devastated, face pale, his tie undone, a crystal glass in one hand, dangling between his knees. I figured he was the husband of one of the dead. There was blood spatter on his shirt and dark suit coat. A man who didn’t belong in the expensively dressed crowd stood beside him, taking notes. A fed, I figured as I slipped away, before I got caught, to wander some more.
I passed uniformed and suited LEOs here and there, two I recognized as local and one unknown wearing a far better- fitting suit. Probably another fed. The firefighters left through the front door, big boots clomping, and gathered on the street. Two crime scene techs raced into the room off to the side, carrying gear. No one paid any attention to me except to note that I had a badge on a lanyard around my neck. I hooked my thumbs into my pockets and moseyed over, prob- ably a failure at looking as if I belonged.
The action was in the game room and the stench of fire grew heavier. Inside was a pool table, comfy reclining sofas, and a TV screen so big it took up most of the wall over the fireplace. On the opposite wall were antique guns in frames behind glass. Cast metal that might have been machine parts was protected within smaller frames. What looked like an ordinary wrench was centered on the wall in a heavy carved frame as if it was the most important thing hanging there. People commemorated the strangest things.
There were also lots of old, black-and-white photographs of stiff-looking people wearing stiff-looking clothes. Their hats and the way the women’s clothes fitted said they were rich and pampered. The men’s mustaches and thick facial hair made them look imposing, at least to themselves; they had that self-satisfied look about them, the expression of a hunter when he was posing with a sixteen-point buck. How- ever, their expressions also made them look like their teeth hurt. Dental care was probably not very common back when- ever these were taken.
Standing in the doorway, I spotted Rick LaFleur, the special agent in charge of Unit Eighteen, talking to Soul, his up-line boss, the newly appointed assistant director, and another woman. If body language was a clue, the PsyLED agents were arguing with the African-American woman in the chic outfit. She wore the tailored clothes as if they were part of her, as much as the scowl and the aura of power. I figured she was the new VIP in charge of the Knoxville FBI. They were too busy to pay attention to me, so I strolled in. Saw things. Smelled things. Touched things with the back of my hand, here and there.
The gas logs had been on, but were now only warm to the touch. A game of pool had been interrupted and balls were all over the tabletop. The solids were mostly gone. One cue stick lay on the floor in two pieces. Drinks of the alcoholic variety were on every available surface.
The entire room smelled of fire, the sour scent of a house fire—painted wallboard and burned construction materials, lots of synthetics. The stench was tainted with what might have been the reek of scorched flesh. Icy night air blew in through the busted windows; blackened draperies billowed. Charred furniture and rugs spread into the room from the window. The fire seemed to have started there.
There were bullet holes on the wall opposite the windows. And there was a pool of blood on the floor. A body lay in the middle of it. She had taken a chest shot. Dead instantly if I was any kind of judge. There was no taped outline. No chalk outline. Just the blood and the body, still in place.
I stared at her. The victim was middle-aged with dyed blond hair and blue contacts drying and wrinkling, shrink- ing over her gray eyes. She was wearing a pale blue sweater top and black pants, three-inch black spike shoes. Diamonds. Lots of them. There was blood spatter on the wall in an odd outline, as if someone had been standing behind her. Blood on a chair and small table. Blood on a shattered glass on the mantel near her. That bloody pool beneath her was tracked through by the shoe prints of the people who had tried to save her. There was a lot of blood.
My gift of reading the land—and feeding the land with blood—was less reticent now, more focused. Hungering. But I had been working with it, trying to harness it, and I stroked the need like the hunting cat I compared it to, flattening its surface, pushing it into stillness. Proud of myself that I had the strength of will to not feed my hunger and the earth beneath the house, I turned from the body.