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Robert Valletta
Blood Running Hot
Amid the sweltering heat of southern California, a serial killer with a passion for sharp knives and naked flesh attacks their way across the affluent coastal neighborhoods of San Diego County. Male or female, it doesn’t seem to matter. No one is safe. A banking executive is found slain in his beachfront hotel room. Then the nude body of a beautiful young woman from a prominent family is found slashed and brutalized in a public park. Former NYPD Detective Micheline Avila is still reeling from a failed marriage and the recent death of her mother. To avoid the painful memories of her past, Micheline abandons her old life and relocates to the tranquility of the Coronado peninsula overlooking San Diego Bay. As a detective with the county sheriff’s department, Micheline is absorbed in the investigations of the first two murder cases. During her off-hours, she befriends an interesting group of local strangers who welcome her openly to share in their west coast lifestyle. But one of them may be a sadistic, cold-blooded killer. As leads in the murder investigations dissolve, so do Micheline’s relationships with her newfound group of friends. In a heartbeat, the world as Micheline knows it is flipped upside down. She is left wounded at the scene of a bank robbery and taken into police custody. Based upon iron-clad, indisputable video surveillance and forensic evidence, she is accused of conspiring with the bank robbers to perpetrate the heinous crime. Against seemingly impossible odds, Micheline must prove her innocence or face the consequences of an open-and-shut jury trial. She’s destined to spend the rest of her life behind bars or worse. How will she ever survive this conflict?
The latest from Valletta (When School Let out), the first installment in his Gaslamp Quarter Thriller series, follows Detective Micheline Avila, newly arrived in Southern California from New York, as she struggles to track down the serial killer who has been brutalizing men and women in San Diego County. Micheline, lonely and still recovering from a divorce, soon meets Jenny Casella, a charismatic bank administrator, and they become fast friends—but all is not as it seems, and Micheline finds herself caught up in a bank robbery, with serious ramifications. Shot during the robbery, she is taken into police custody and has to work out who is responsible before her life and career are ruined.

Valletta’s striking descriptions evoke a noir-ish California, as he cleverly uses minor details to show that Micheline, an East Coast transplant, doesn’t quite fit in, such as when she wears a “navy wool cardigan,” putting her at odds with her San Diego contemporaries. The diverse cast of colorful characters includes a blind voyeur, criminals, and exotic dancers with double lives, and Micheline in particular is so strong and engaging protagonist that readers will likely enjoy following for multiple novels. While this case gets mostly wrapped up, Valletta is careful to leave readers with plenty of questions in the end, opening them up for the next in the series.

Valletta’s choice to emulate some of the seedier aspects of earlier noir novels, especially salacious descriptions of female characters such as the “blonde with a body that would stop traffic” will likely strike many contemporary readers as trite or misogynistic despite the strong female protagonist, and his tendency to flit from one perspective to another makes it challenging at times track the narrative. However, the storyline is arresting, and will please fans of crime fiction with flawed characters, especially those who prefer the vital California noir subgenre.

Takeaway: An East Coast detective takes on a serial killer in California, while she struggles to make a new life in this promising series opener.

Great for fans of: James Ellroy’s The Black Dahlia, G.K. Parks’s Likely Suspects.

Production grades
Cover: B
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: B
Marketing copy: A