Nashville medical examiner Samantha Owens lost her husband and children in the 2010 floods. Since then, she has managed to survive by keeping her world small and by containing her grief in a series of compulsive behaviors. But that control is shattered when she’s asked to come to Washington DC to do a second autopsy on the body of a former boyfriend, Eddie Donovan, an ex-Ranger apparently murdered during a car-jacking in the nation’s capital. Samantha is far from ready to face another trauma, but she won’t let down the victim’s mother. So begins A Deeper Darkness, the first book in a new suspense series by J.T. Ellison, author of the popular Taylor Jackson mysteries.
In Washington, things get complicated very quickly when Samantha discovers something unexpected about Eddie’s murder. And then more ex-soldiers—all of them connected to the same unit in Afghanistan—begin to die, and Samantha must search for the source of their common fate. Her investigation takes her through complicated plot twists as she encounters various suspects, official cover-ups, and dead ends at every turn. And although Sam is still overwhelmed by her own losses, in pursuing this investigation she slowly begins to find hope for the future.
Ellison tells Sam’s story through several points of view. In addition to Samantha, there’s Susan Donovan, Eddie’s widow, who’s angry that she must share her mourning with her husband’s former lover but knows she needs Sam to find out the truth about his murder, in part to keep herself and her daughters safe. Also appearing is homicide detective Darren Fletcher, a dedicated officer who has seen too much suffering and is now just tired of it all: “He watched Hart talk to Jiminez, saw the young man’s eager smile, and shook his head. He’d been like that once. Full of piss and vinegar, titillated by his proximity to evil. So certain he could make a difference. Not unlike the gaggles of twenty-something college graduates that flooded the city each May, buffed and polished to a high shine: no more jeans and sweatshirts, but dark blue wool suits, crisp white shirts and red power ties for the lads, skirts and dresses over the knee, nipped at the waist and lightly shoulder-padded for the lassies. Drinking venti coffees, staring at their handhelds, talking earnestly over single-malts and pitchers late into the night at the various Capitol Hill watering holes. He watched them on his way home, on his way to work, and marveled at their hope. Hope that wouldn’t alter this empire of dirt.”
In many ways, however, this whole novel is about hope and belief: As a young man, Eddie Donovan believes that he can make a difference and breaks up with Samantha to join the Rangers. Susan Donovan hopes that her husband will be safe when he leaves the service. And Samantha, who has given up hope, may find it again in this morass.
A Deeper Darkness is an Indie Next pick from the American Booksellers Association and a Publishers Weekly Pick of the Week, as well. Fans of Ellison’s Taylor Jackson series will no doubt enjoy this novel. After all, Taylor and Samantha are fictional friends. But all this early attention for the new series suggests that Ellison will soon gain new readers who like their action fast and furious, too.
J.T. Ellison will discuss A Deeper Darkness on May 12 at Mysteries & More in Nashville at 2 p.m. Click here to read Chapter 16’s interview with J.T. Ellison about making the switch from White House staffer to full-time crime novelist.