04 March 2013

New and Noteworthy: J.T. Ellison's Samantha Owen series

A number of my friends have read books by J.T. Ellison, so as an author she has been on my radar for a while. I received the second book of her new series featuring Medical Examiner Samantha Owens as an Advanced Reader book, so decided to start with this series. Samantha Owens is one of those women that we find often in books these days. Smart, sexy, accomplished...in short a strong, successful woman. At least she used to be. That was before tragedy hit her two years ago. 

In A Deeper Darkness, the first book in the Samantha Owens series Samantha finds that tragedy has struck again in the form of the death of her college love, Eddie Donavan. The police have ruled his death as a simple car-jacking, but his mother disagrees. Hence her request to Samantha to perform a second autopsy and take a second look. 

That is the way Ellison begins this top-notch thriller. From there the plot continues at a fast pace, with enough plot twists and interesting occurrences to keep the reader interested. It is quickly obvious that there is more here than meets the eye. What do a car-jacking, PTSD, a diary of secrets written in Latin, and a ex-Army Ranger turned recluse have in common? That is the central question that keeps the reader turning pages in this thrill ride. One thing missing in this book, though, was the heavy romance angle that is usually prevalent in this type of book. I actually appreciated that as I loved the focus on the mystery part of the story. 

The characters that Ellison populates this book with are a definite positive. None of the characters are cookie cutter in any way, least of all Samantha, whose demons have driven her to OCD behavior. As a mom, I don't even want to imagine what it would be like to lose a child, and that fact had me feeling a lot of empathy for Sam. The lead detective on the case is battling his own demons, as is the widow of the deceased who never felt that she measured up to Sam, and Xander Whitfeild, the reclusive ex-Ranger who was one of Eddie's best friends. Yet Ellison is able to take all of these characters and not only makes you care about their personal demons, but she does an excellent job of tying them together into a team of characters that really work. 

I did find, however, that I wished I would have read the Taylor Jackson books by Ms. Ellison first. (I plan to remedy that quickly)as I believe the story of the demons that Samantha was haunted by had already been brought to light in those books. As a first time reader of Ms. Ellison's work I was a bit put off by her continued alluding to the tragedy that took Samantha's family without ever really explaining it. She finally did explain, but it was very late in the book. I think if I had read the Taylor Jackson books and been familiar with the character this would not have been an issue. 

Having just read the first book in J.T. Ellison's Samantha Owens series, I was really glad that I had the ARC of the second book,Edge of Black to read next. In this book we find that Sam has sold her house and left her ME job in Nashville to move to DC and take a job as the head of the pathology department at George Washington University. As she begins her first teaching assignment during summer school, fate again intervenes. One of her students becomes ill and when Sam takes her to the hospital for treatment, she becomes involved in the investigation of an act of domestic terrorism. 

The first Samantha Owens book that I read was the first book I had ever read by Ellison, and I found it fascinating. I had heard that the second book of the series was even better. Given how much I liked the first book, I found myself doubting that. They were right, though, this book is marginally better than A Deeper Darkness. The plot of this book was more to my liking. I love big, global conspiracies and a home grown domestic terrorism plot caught my attention immediately. The plot of this book seemed to flow just a bit better for me. As often happens in a series while the stories and characters progress, there is more focus on the plot and less time spent defining the main characters, their backgrounds, and the relationships between them. 

I was ecstatic here to see that Ellison not only brought back Sam, but Xander was still a major player, as was DC Detective Fletcher. They were by far my three favorite characters from the first book. Once again, Xander is at the heart of this book's mystery. I would imagine that the author can't keep this up for more than a few books, but I am interested to see how she develops Xander's participation in the mystery solving collaboration of Detective Fletcher and Sam. 

Along with these three, Ellison again populated this story with an interesting cast of supporting characters. My favorites in this story were Xander's hippie parents and the other inhabitants of the small town in Colorado where he grew up. Like his town nickname, Xander Moon, the people in the town are a wonderful mix of hippy and small town America. I really hope some of them continue to play a role in future books, especially his parents, and the Sheriff and his wife, who are high school friends of Xander's.


The good news, though, is that I have another bunch of books from this author to read while I wait for the third book of this series to come out in 2014.  I'm sure that I will like Taylor Jackson as much as I do Dr. Owens.