Review: Clean Burn by Karen Sandler

Title: Clean Burn {Janelle Watkins, Private Investigator #1}

Author: Karen Sandler

Published: Exhibit A Books August 2013

Status: Read from August 25 to 26, 2013 — I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

Clean Burn is a gripping crime fiction novel introducing Private Investigator Janelle Watkins. An injured ex-cop, Janelle mostly makes a living from exposing cheating spouses but a personal plea for help has her reluctantly agreeing to search for two missing children. The cases seem unconnected but both lead Janelle to her hometown of Greenville where she enlists the aid of her ex-partner, and ex-lover, Sheriff Ken Heinz. Heinz has his hands full with a series of arson attacks in the small town but when two more children go missing, and a fire is discovered at each scene, Janelle begins to suspect their cases are connected…

Psychologically and physically damaged heroines are increasingly common in crime fiction, and Janelle Watkins is no exception. Her personal history of abuse at the hands of her father has led to an unhealthy fascination with fire, she regularly burns herself with matches to, among other things, relieve stress. PTSD from a previous case involving a murdered boy is also a factor in Janelle’s fragile emotional make-up and the reason she attempts to refuse her client’s pleas for help. In addition an accidental firearm discharge by a rookie cop all but destroyed her leg, leaving her with a painful limp, and forced her resignation from the police force. Despite Janelle’s self loathing and disturbing affinity for fire, I found her a likeable protagonist. She is both a sympathetic character and an admirable one, many would have buckled under the weight of dysfunction Janelle is forced to live with.

While much of the novel is narrated in Janelle’s first person voice, a third person perspective fills in the missing pieces of the story. In terms of the plot, the reader knows from the start of the link between the missing children and the fires, something which is not immediately obvious to Janelle. Janelle’s painstaking investigation to identify the abductors is believable, and the tension remains consistent, especially as we are privy to ‘Mama’s’ increasingly disordered behaviour and the circumstances in which the children are being kept.

Clean Burn is grim at times, delving into family dysfunction, child abuse, addiction and pyromania but there are lighter moments. Janelle’s secretary isn’t afraid to speak her mind and Ken’s niece is as rebellious as all teen’s are. There is also the relationship between Janelle and Ken which sizzles with unresolved attraction.

This is a promising debut series from an author better known for her Silhouette Romance novels. Despite its dysfunctional characters and dark themes, Clean Burn is an entertaining read. I was engrossed and I’m looking forward to Janelle’s next case.

Available to Purchase From

Robot Trading Company I Amazon US I Amazon UKAmazonCA I BookDepository



4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. The Australian Bookshelf
    Aug 31, 2013 @ 07:20:34

    Janelle sounds like a complicated but endearing character. This sounds like a great star to a new series.



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