Good cops. Bad cops. Only one will win.
After completing her tours with the Marines in Iraq, Molly Sutton knew she could take down any bad guy she met. But when a family tragedy exposes the dark side of her local police, she joined up with her former CO Burke Broussard, who left New Orleans PD to set up a private investigative service for people who couldn’t find justice elsewhere.
Gabe Hebert saw the toll that working for the NOPD took on his dad and decided instead to make a name for himself as one of the best young chefs in the French Quarter. But when his father’s death is ruled a suicide after a deliberately botched investigation by his former captain, Gabe knows his dad stumbled onto a truth that someone wants silenced.
Gabe goes to his father’s best friend, Burke, for help. Burke assigns the toughest member of his team, Molly, to the case. Molly can’t believe she’s being asked to work with the smoking hot chef whose chocolate cake is not the only thing that makes her mouth water. Sparks fly as they follow the leads Gabe’s dad left them, unraveling a web of crimes, corruption, and murder that runs all the way to the top.
PJ and I had originally planned that I would review this book for The Romance Dish. When I finished the book and turned to the acknowledgements, however, I saw my name there. I provided a small bit of help to Karen Rose as she worked on this book, and she generously acknowledged that in print. In the circumstances, an actual review didn’t seem appropriate, so we decided I would do a writeup of the book instead of a formal review.
With Quarter to Midnight, Karen Rose launches a new series in a new city, New Orleans. The story opens with a retired police officer, Rocky Hebert, pursuing a cold case, a murder that occurred during Hurricane Katrina more than fifteen years earlier. He has an appointment with a doctor who has information for him. But he doesn’t realize those who covered up the murder are snipping loose ends and are on his heels. Rocky doesn’t survive the night.
Rocky’s death is ruled a suicide, but his son, Gabe, the head chef of a hot new restaurant, doesn’t accept that. He secretly arranges for forensic examinations of his father’s body and brings the results to his dad’s former partner, Burke Broussard. Now a private investigator, Burke runs an agency in New Orleans, Broussard’s Private Investigations, LLC. He assigns former Marine Molly Sutton to the case. Gabe insists on investigating with her, and the two begin retracing his father’s steps.
Meanwhile, those tying up loose ends are hunting the witness to that old murder. Xavier Morrow was five years old during Katrina. Pushed onto the roof of his home by his mother moments before the flood waters took her, he was huddled there when he saw someone kill one of his neighbors. Rocky Hebert was among the group who rescued Xavier and others in his neighborhood. Xavier told Rocky about the murder, but when Rocky went back for the body, it was gone. Xavier was evacuated to Houston, as so many New Orleans residents were. A family there adopted him. But he never forgot the murder and Rocky kept looking for the killer.
Although more than fifteen years have passed, the killer had a distinctive feature that would provide convincing proof of identification. The killer knows it and is taking steps, including leaving a trail of bodies, to see that it doesn’t become a problem.
The sprawling, lethal catastrophe of Hurricane Katrina changed the face of New Orleans, wiping away entire neighborhoods, as it did the one where Xavier lived. It killed many of her residents and forced others to leave forever. The use of this situation as the springboard for a cold case story made perfect sense. The killer knows there was a witness, but the evacuation and adoption make finding the child difficult. It also complicates the search for other witnesses in the story’s present day.
Without going back and counting heads in Rose’s other books, I can’t definitely state that Quarter to Midnight has a bigger cast of characters than most, but it feels as though it does. They’re handled deftly, with distinct personalities and story threads, so the reader doesn’t become confused. The story initially cuts back and forth between the murder mystery in New Orleans and Xavier’s jeopardy in Houston. As it does, each group of characters steps to the fore and gives us reasons to care about them.
We know early who the main villain in Quarter to Midnight is and what drives him. But we don’t know who’s helping him. Rose keeps their identities secret without going through plot contortions to do so. The uncertainty as to who might be deadly keeps the tension in the story high.
There’s also tension between Molly and Gabe, who were already attracted to each other though their only interactions had occurred when she visited his restaurant. The tension and the attraction grow, and the developing relationship makes a logical vehicle for the two to share their backstories and their feelings about what’s happening.
The large cast provides plenty of potential lead characters for future books. There are the members of the Broussard agency, Gabe’s cousin Patty, who’s also his partner in the restaurant, Molly’s sister and her daughter, and a few trustworthy members of the New Orleans Police Department. Then there’s the Houston group, Xavier, his friend Carlos, Carlos’s brother, Manny, Xavier’s mom, Cicely, and Cicely’s friend Willa Mae. Cicely is a nurse, Willa Mae is a lawyer, and neither one of them stands for any nonsense. They were two of my favorite characters in the book.
Rose’s family groups generally include at least one strong, middle-aged, often maternal woman, but these two struck me as being a notch higher on the taking charge scale. This may be because of the way they handle their adventure on the way to New Orleans and the events when they arrive there.
I also enjoyed the Broussard agency’s office manager, Joy Thomas, a former police detective, now a CPA, who runs the office from her wheelchair. She also doesn’t tolerate any nonsense. As a longtime fan of the DC Comics character Oracle, I have a soft spot for smart, no-nonsense women using wheelchairs.
One of the things that makes this story engaging is the web of emotional ties that bind the different characters to each other. Gabe and Xavier both have loved and were loved by Rocky but in different ways. Molly and her sister and niece have family ties as well as bonds formed by shared trauma. The Broussard Investigations members are found family, affectionate and loyal to each other, and Molly and Burke share the additional tie of having served as Marines together.
At the heart of the emotional web, of course, is the developing relationship between Molly and Gabe. They make the transition from mutual but unacknowledged attraction to something else I don’t want to spoil, and it’s handled smoothly in a believable way.
The story twists and turns with the characters shifting from hunters to hunted and back as the plot builds. The conclusion, an explosive confrontation that begins at a banquet and moves to the tourist-filled streets of New Orleans, provides a satisfying payoff.
As you can probably tell, I really loved this book. But that’s the most I’m going to say because this is not technically a review.