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Scratchgravel Road (Josie Gray Mysteries) by Tricia Fields
Cover Artist: Photo: Surkov Valdimir / Shutterstock
Review by Joseph B. Hoyos
Minotaur Books Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9781250021366
Date: 05 March 2013 List Price $24.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /

In Artemis, Texas, near Scratchgravel Road, a young woman, Cassidy Harper, discovers a murdered man's badly decomposing corpse lying in the desert. Chief of Police Josie Gray notifies the County Coroner Mitchell Cowan, who notifies the CDC after noticing wounds that resemble those caused by flesh-eating bacteria. He fears that a contagious disease may trigger an outbreak. To make matters worse for Josie, heavy rains flood Artemis, threatening to burst open barrels of waste being stored at a closed nuclear weapons facility.

Tricia Fields’ Scratchgravel Road is a fast-paced, action-packed mystery that is quite frightening. Surprisingly, Scratchgravel Road is far more explosive than the author's excellent debut, The Territory. Numerous subplots keep our heroine hustling at breakneck speed. I couldn't do her job.

The novel's main plot is Josie's quest to identify the man whose corpse is lying in the desert and to find his killer. Subplots involve her search for a colleague's runaway daughter, Teresa Cruz. During heavy rains, Josie must walk a perilous swinging bridge over the swollen Rio Grande and travel into Mexico's drug territory where the Medrano Cartel want her dead; she must also confront the runaway's drug-addicted boyfriend, Enrico Gomez. Another subplot is the romantic relationship that she is struggling to maintain with successful CPA, Dillon Reese. Overshadowing everything is the treacherous flooding that threatens to destroy Artemis if a nuclear weapons facility is breached.

Hardworking, conscientious, down-to-earth Josie Gray is a likeable heroine. My heart warmed to learn she has a caring, supportive boyfriend. This contrasts strongly with other women in the novel, such as Cassidy and Teresa, who have deadbeat boyfriends who mercilessly use and abuse them.

The setting, once again, is the small, economically distressed border town of Artemis, Texas, where citizens will do almost anything for cash, even perform dangerous, highly radioactive work dismantling contaminated machinery at a defunct nuclear weapons facility. In Fields' first novel, the enemy was the drug cartels. In the sequel, the enemy is more dangerous, more treacherous, because it is unseen. You don't know if you've been infected until the gruesome sores break out on your skin, causing it to age and rot. Yes, there are some medical descriptions that will cause the reader to shiver.

Small, isolated towns, and the people who live there, are often used and abused. No one cares about them. Things happen there that wouldn't occur in large cities, such as the building of a nuclear weapons facility and the storage of waste that remains dangerous for thousands of years, threatening to contaminate soil, water and other natural resources.

Once again, Tricia Fields has ripped the headlines from today's newspapers, created an intense, fast-paced plot, and fleshed it out with realistic characters, both good and bad. Highly recommended for mystery lovers who crave a lot of action and drama, Scratchgravel Road will take readers on an unforgettable journey--a journey that continues with Fields' next novel, Wrecked, to be published in March of 2014.

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