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Spent Identity
A body, a disappearance, just another hot summer in upstate New York. It’s July when antiquities appraiser Annalisse Drury reaches her family’s small-town farm to consult with the trusted aunt who raised her. She learns that her beloved homestead—the one she expects to inherit—is for sale. While Annalisse reels at the betrayal and her shattered dreams, the Walker Farm ranch manager discovers a corpse in the barn. Officials close the suspected murder scene, and Annalisse seeks refuge with her aunt at Alec Zavos’s rural estate in New York’s Catskill Mountains. Then Aunt Kate vanishes. Annalisse solicits the help of Greek tycoon, Alec Zavos, even though their rocky romance has dissolved into routine separation. What began as a promise on Crete nine months ago has eaten away at Annalisse’s hope for a future with him. In Spent Identity, Annalisse and Alec come together for the second time and find themselves in the center of not one mystery, but several. Where is Kate, and why sell her farm now? Is the dead man a coincidence or a clue to the aunt’s disappearance? John Doe’s identity may hold needed answers to solve the puzzle before Kate’s unstable health issues make her rescue impossible. The clock ticks, and a vengeful murderer is in charge…
Romance and murder meld in Bell’s energetic second Annalisse murder mystery (after Stolen Obsession), which showcases a keen eye for the details of nature, rural life, fine dining, and cars. Antiques appraiser Annalisse Drury’s romance with Greek millionaire Alec Zavos is faltering under the demands of his family business, which makes high-end automobiles. Annalisse is looking for a distraction, and rescuing her elderly aunt Kate Walker’s New York State farm from imminent sale might be it. But when the ranch hand, Ethan, discovers a strangled corpse in the barn and then Kate disappears, Annalisse, Alec, and their friends follow a bread crumb trail of texts and clues through New England to find her. The trail leads into Kate’s hidden past, unearthing family secrets that could explode Annalisse’s life.

The cozy, pragmatic everyday of horses, sheep, and farm life, and Annalisse’s own grounded personality, neatly counterbalance the excesses of Alec’s rarified world and the drama of the mystery. The story is welcoming and vibrant, and much of it is nuanced and warm. That care unfortunately falls short in one area: Annalisse’s hateful comments on other women’s bodies—notably her cousin Jillian’s weight—and repeated descriptions of antagonists as ugly. This pettiness risks alienating readers who expect a light, fun story.

The fine mechanics of a whodunit are derailed by multiple subplots and threats—including murder, blackmail, kidnapping, sexual assault, and a love triangle—that undermine one another’s urgency and can make Alec’s romantic gestures feel awkwardly mistimed. Several threads are left unresolved, and the answers to many questions fall into Alec and Annalisse’s laps through accident and luck. But when Bell aims for fun adventure, she hits the bull’s-eye. This mystery will appeal to readers who want to fall into intense moments of danger and lyrical descriptions of breezes rustling through maple trees.

Takeaway: Atmospheric descriptions will draw fans of thrilling stories to this romantic rural whodunit.

Great for fans of Sarah Barrie’s Hunters Ridge series, Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache novels.

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

Bell’s busy follow-up to Stolen Obsession finds New York City antiquities appraiser Annalisse Drury having doubts about her relationship with the vastly wealthy and incredibly handsome Alec Zavros, who’s a veterinarian as well as hands-on owner of a luxury sports car company. In search of relationship advice, Annalisse sets off for her Aunt Kate’s farm near Goshen, N.Y., only to find Kate in a stew because her son, to whom she quitclaimed it when she was broke, has decided to sell the farm, which Kate was planning on leaving to Annalisse. Meanwhile, Ethan Fawdray, Kate’s hired man, reports an unusually pungent smell coming from the barn. When Annalisse, Kate, and Ethan investigate, they find a man’s decomposing body. Shortly thereafter, Kate vanishes. Has she been kidnapped? How is she connected to the dead man? The suspenseful search for Kate leads Annalisse, Alec, and Alec’s PI friend, Bill Drake, to past crimes as well as current ones. This mystery is for readers who like their romances spiced up with Glocks and danger. (Self-published)