* * * * * (5 stars)
I read and reviewed The Tease, book 1 in the Darling Killer Trilogy, last summer and enjoyed it very much, so I was thrilled and honored when the author contacted me and asked if I would review an ARC of book 2, The Grind. I'm happy to say that once again, I very much enjoyed this book.
Anna Zendel is a disgraced therapist and a burlesque dancer who is being stalked by a serial killer. At the end of The Tease, it looked like the killer had been caught - but then another character drops a line of dialogue that turns everything around and makes you realize, no, the killer wasn't caught at all. In The Grind, Anna is trying to move on from the events in book 1. She's facing an ethics hearing to determine whether or not she will be allowed to continue practicing her profession and trying to put her burlesque troupe back together. The last thing she needs is for the killer to reappear, making demands along with the killings, and for one of her new troupe members to turn out to be psycho.
The story is suspenseful and engrossing, and at times heartbreaking, balanced out with Anna's dry humor - sometimes the only thing that's keeping her sane. I enjoyed getting to know her hippie father, whose mantras bear an uncanny resemblance to Beatles songs, and chewing my nails in delicious anxiety as I watched the character who may have revealed him/herself as the killer in the last book insinuate her/himself more closely into Anna's life. The members of her burlesque troupe (hers, because she's taken over as the director), both returning from book 1 and new in this book, are a colorful and likeable bunch, and the descriptions of their acts are entertaining. The story arc is masterfully constructed; I saw the suspect character playing more of a role in Anna's life, and started to doubt my instincts about that character, then at the end, after a claustrophobic and truly scary showdown against another villain, that character drops another line that's like a punch to the gut and I realized how close to disaster Anna really is. The last part of The Grind was another one of those where I stayed up way too late to see how it all turned out.
My only problem with the book is similar to the one I had with The Tease, the somewhat heavy-handed delivery of a social message. But that part is brief and soon left behind, and we return to the engaging story of Anna's attempts to deal with rabid reporters, suspicious police, psycho troupe members, her upcoming ethics hearing, tragic losses, and her growing feelings for someone whom she's afraid to love because she doesn't want him to get hurt, all while hoping to stay alive long enough to catch the real killer. It's a breathless, entertaining, well-written ride, and I am eagerly looking forward to the next book.