A Colorado Mountain Mystery
In all honesty I requested an ARC of Shatter the Night by Emily Littlejohn (as you can see from the title of this book review), because I was moving to Colorado. I thought it would be a blast to read a murder mystery, while sitting in my new apartment, nestled in the mountains. Don’t pretend to be socked. You know this is completely me. New city, new local authors (Littlejohn hails from Denver) to support? Double plus!
Minotaur Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press that was unknown to me (but could now have a list of thrillers, all to itself, that are on my radar) thankfully obliged (in exchange for an honest review).
Well, I got what I was looking for in the fourth book in the Gemma Monroe Mystery series, set on Halloween, in Cedar Valley. What shocked me? There was so much more what I was looking for when I dived in.
Full disclosure before you stop here. Although Shatter the Night is the fourth book in the Gemma Monroe series, I have not read books 1-3. While there might be things I would have noticed or picked up on if I had? I definitely didn’t feel like I missed out on anything, or was left confused because I hadn’t. So feel free to jump right in!
A Quaint Setting Doesn’t Equaint To A Cozy Mystery
Mind you, I wasn’t expecting cozy but something between Cozy and and a no holds bar thriller. Shatter the Night was definitely closer to the latter than the former. Closer than I ever expected it to be.
Her knack for imagery, whether human gore or theatrical creeps into places you just don’t see coming and it makes all the difference. It tips the scales for a story that easily could have been a run-of-the-mill, quaint procedural to a gritty and tense mystery.
Under the hood, he wore a latex mask of a stitched face. Sutures in neat X’s crossed his eyes, and his mouth was sewn shut by a dozen more. Around the sutures, bruises competed with dried blood.
The amount of times I wondered if Cedar Valley actually existed was founded on the creepiness rendered by Littlejohn. I fought logic for as long as I could. I told my imagination that Littlejohn was messing with me, but I finally gave in. Because when you can make light fluffy snow feel suffocating? You win. I lose.
Yes I googled it. No. It does not exist.
Characters and Representation
Maybe my expectations are low but I was blindsided by the sheer amount of representation and complex reality throughout the story. Not to mention that it did not feel forced. It was not a side thought of appeasement. Instead, there were a cast of characters that were marginalized, flawed and set in a reality that plays out everyday.
Lead character, Detective Gemma Monroe is a working mom trying to balance a pending wedding, tracking down a serial killer and being a mom. Any one of these situations is complex. To put them all together is a lot. I am not a mom.
However, there is no mistaking the emotional tension, stress and fear Emma suffers through while sitting in a hospital with her sick daughter. Phone call after phone call comes in regarding the case and other family issues. Yet, it is impossible to think that any mother wouldn’t relate to that situation, being pulled in a million directions.
Behind Gemma Monroe is a wide variety of characters including Fire Investigator Olivia Ramirez, an outsider to Cedar Valley. But more importantly she’s a veteran and tough as nails. Throughout the book both her and Gemma run into what has become daily occurrences of reality for many women. Men harass them based on culture, sex or assumed sexual orientation. Littlejohn doesn’t pull any punches during these scenes.
And that becomes important in a bigger way as the plot continues to unfold.
Copycat Murders With A Twist
As Emma continues to piece together clues that started as one murder, one becomes two, two becomes three and a pattern points to a grand, devastating finale. One that stretches back in time.
Historically, Littlejohn continues to shine in her ability to weave suspense with knowledge. She continues to portray the ugliness of the times and how both societal and familial strains can domino from one generation to the next. As it does, the stakes rise and now it has built to a climax that threatens the entire town.
I came for into Shatter the Night looking for something specific and definitely came away with it. However, I also found many other themes interwoven through the plot that I didn’t expect, important themes that were addressed with both realism and sensitivity. This was my first read in this series and by Emily Littlejohn, but it won’t be my last.
About Emily Littlejohn
Emily Littlejohn was born and raised in Southern California. A former librarian, she now spends her time writing, raising a family, and working in city government in the Denver metro area. Inherit the Bones was her acclaimed debut novel in the Gemma Monroe series, which also includes A Season to Lie and Lost Lake.