Traces of Guilt is the first book a new series that Henderson is writing – the Evie Blackwell Cold Cases. However, they actually tie in with a BUNCH of the characters from Henderson’s “standalones,” and I’m not completely sure if I would have understood all the character interactions if I hadn’t already read the earlier books. Perfect Ann plays a pretty important part in this book (because guess what! The ridiculously introverted Ann is also friends with Evie!)
This book was significantly better than the last few Henderson novels that I’ve read. Evie is quite likable. She works for the Illinois State Police, but is using her vacation time to work on a few cold cases in Carin County. The governor-elect is planning to start a task force the following January (book is set in November), sending a team of specially selected individuals to work through cold cases involving missing people. Evie is doing a sort of test-run in Carin County at the suggestion of Perfect Ann.
Gabe Thane is the sheriff of Carin County, as his father was before him. Gabe’s brothers both live around Carin Lake as well – Josh and Will. Because they’ve lived there all their lives, the two cold cases Evie is working on have a very personal feel for the brothers.
The first case involves the disappearance of an entire family – a deputy sheriff, his wife, and their 11-year-old son all disappeared, along with their truck and camper, on their way to spend the weekend camping. No sign has been found of them despite an extensive search at the time, and several times of revisiting the case. The second case is the disappearance of a young girl from Florida, who went missing while her family was staying a local hotel.
Overall, this story had much tighter plotting and an actual story, which was nice. Like I said, I really liked Evie, and also Gabe. I was really drawn into the process of searching for the missing family. While there wasn’t a lot of urgency to this story, since presumably people who have been missing for 10 or so years are probably dead, it was still engaging.
I was moderately annoyed that every time the narrative changed (third person) perspective, the person’s name was placed as a heading. I really feel like the words Ann Falcon are a completely unnecessary indicator that we’ve switched perspectives when the first sentence of the paragraph starts with something like, “Ann was puzzled over Josh’s behavior.” Why do authors do this?? The random headings were quite distracting to me – it’s annoyed me in books by other people, too. I can understand when it’s a first-person narrative, but it makes NO sense when it’s third person.
The biggest thing that annoyed me by far, though, was when Perfect Ann announced that she “knew” what had happened to the girl who had disappeared. She has literally NO evidence, and while I’ll admit that her theory does tie together some coincidences, making it probable, it’s a BIG jump from probable to definite. But an entire room of supposedly experienced law-enforcement officers all nodded their heads, agreed that Ann was right, and then just didn’t bother investigating the case any further!? Later, evidence does show up to, of course, prove that Perfect Ann was right, but I was SUPER aggravated that everyone just accepted Ann’s theory as 100% fact, as though there weren’t fifty million other possibilities out there.
It also confused me a little because the other books I’ve been reading of Henderson all act like they are these big mysteries and not a lot of romance, and then have ended up the opposite. This one completely sounded like the main thrust of the story was going to be about a developing relationship between Evie and Gabe… and that doesn’t even kind of happen?! I do not understand people who write synopses.
All in all, this was a 3/5. While there was a lot more story and things of interest going on, the ending still really fizzled out. After spending all this time working on the disappearance of the family, the solution to the mystery felt awkward and tacked on, and also, weirdly, felt like Evie didn’t really solve it. It was a conclusion that fit the facts, but still felt weird. Still, a decent and engaging read that did a fairly good job of setting things up for the next book as well.
Book #4 for the #20BooksofSummer!!!