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Stone Cold Heart

Review

Stone Cold Heart

It begins with a few crude online statements that appear to be part of a blog that is not identified. The person who responds to these comments seems to be talking about a female who had died, yet we don’t know how. Caz Frear is surely having fun with us here as she sets us up for one heck of a read that features an unconventional murder mystery at its heart, which ends up becoming so much more.

In Frear's debut novel, SWEET LITTLE LIES, DC Cat Kinsella is involved in a murder investigation that harks back to a cold case that may or may not have had her father as the principal suspect. The storyline that skirts between the current murder case and her personal look behind the scenes into her own father is stunning and incredibly suspenseful. Now, with the release of the second installment in the series, STONE COLD HEART, we find Cat investigating the brutal murder of a young woman while still taking a peek here and there into her ongoing familial saga.

At one point in the novel, Frear gives us a hardcore look into Cat’s psyche as part of the continuous stream of thought to which we are privy: “[W]hat I am can't be found on the internet. It's not in the stoop of my shoulders or the lines on my face…. Shame is buried so deep that eventually the false you becomes the real you and no one ever comes close to knowing who you really are.” These are deep thoughts for someone who is still three years shy of her 30th birthday.

"Frear has created one of the most engaging characters in the mystery/thriller genre, and this series is already drawing comparisons to the works of Tana French, who may very well be the best in the business."

The murder is one that hits close to Cat, though this time it does not involve a family member. Early in the book, we see her conversing with the overly flirtatious owner of the coffee house she visits each morning as part of her pre-work routine. How ironic it is when this same individual, Joseph Madden, is the central suspect in the murder of a young, single Australian woman named Naomi Lockhart. Not only are they able to connect Madden to the victim, strands of her hair are found in his car.

Madden had approached Cat one morning to ask her about the steps he would need to take against his wife, Rachel, who he claimed had been threatening him in odd ways. This interaction comes back to haunt the investigation as Cat and her partner, Luigi Parnell, focus on Rachel. She is a likely suspect since Madden already has been exposed as a serial adulterer throughout their marriage, as well as an emotionally abusive husband. Their fiery household also makes their only child, teenage daughter Clara, another potential suspect.

Naomi had been employed through an agency that had ties to the Maddens. In fact, the woman running the agency, Kirstie, admits to having slept with Madden. Furthermore, Cat and Parnell discover that Madden had been let go a decade earlier by a company where he allegedly had an affair with an underage intern, which earned him the nickname “Jailbait Joe.” This is more than enough to label Madden a low-life, untrustworthy character, but there is still nothing to directly tie him to the murder. However, another woman with whom he had a workplace incident, Stacey Nash, took her own life a few years later under suspicious circumstances.

Frear just keeps piling on clues and motives to the point that your head will be spinning. Rachel has such a sketchy background that points toward her truly being the unhinged person her husband had claimed, and it tosses the entire case up in the air. When the video footage at the auto garage where Madden's car was being worked on just prior to Naomi's murder shows a lone female entering the vehicle, it appears that this mystery woman could be Rachel. Could she have been planting Naomi's hair strands to convict her husband for a murder she herself committed? Or was this part of a larger plan involving multiple women seeking revenge against Madden? Rather than hurting your brain any further, I recommend simply going with the flow and allowing Frear and her complex characters to lead you through this difficult and deadly journey.

What drives STONE COLD HEART is precisely what made SWEET LITTLE LIES one of my favorite novels of 2018. That special something (or someone, I should say) is Cat Kinsella. It is a privilege to be able to spend the majority of this book in her head, as her thoughts range from insightful to heartbreaking and, at times, laugh-out-loud funny. Frear has created one of the most engaging characters in the mystery/thriller genre, and this series is already drawing comparisons to the works of Tana French, who may very well be the best in the business.

STONE COLD HEART hopefully will gain Frear a new legion of readers who want to find out what it's like to slip into the mind and skin of a top-notch but partially broken young detective.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on July 12, 2019

Stone Cold Heart
by Caz Frear

  • Publication Date: July 2, 2019
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Harper
  • ISBN-10: 0062849883
  • ISBN-13: 9780062849885