without a trace audio coverStory Rating: 3.75 stars
Audio Rating: 3.75 stars

Narrator: Sean Crisden
Length: 7 hours, 3 minutes

Audiobook Buy Links: Amazon/Audible | iBooks
Book Buy Links:  Amazon | iBooks

Without a Trace immediately follows What Lies Beneath in the Lancaster Falls series, and so this review will spoil one of the revelations that comes at the end of that book.

Drew Maguire is back in Lancaster Falls for the first time since enlisting following his brother Casey’s disappearance. Now that the police have found Casey’s remains in a sinkhole near Iron Lake, Drew is determined to figure out who killed his brother. He had been hoping all along that Casey was out living a life somewhere, that his disappearance was voluntary, and learning the truth is crushing him. He has no interest in waiting patiently on the sidelines while the police investigate; he is going to do all he can to figure it out himself.

Logan has been with the Lancaster Falls police department for a couple of years and is still getting to know the small town and its residents. When Drew comes storming in, the two start butting heads as Drew is determined to just plow ahead and start stirring up trouble, trying to interrogate everyone and learn more about what happened all those years ago. Logan finds Drew frustrating, but he also can’t deny the man is incredibly attractive and Logan is drawn to Drew despite himself.

Finding clues in a case a decade old isn’t easy, and in a small town with so much gossip, getting reliable stories isn’t easy either. It is clear that there are a lot of secrets to uncover, and both Drew and Logan are investigating, both separately and together. Drew is also trying to work through some issues from his past, including reconciling with an old friend, as well as making peace with his mother. And on top of that, Drew and Logan are realizing that there may be more between them than some anger-fueled lust. But above all, Drew is determined to figure out what happened to Casey. However, even as they begin to get some answers, the men are finding that there are a lot more questions about what was really happening in Lancaster Falls all those years ago.

When I finished What Lies Beneath, the first book in this series, I couldn’t wait to pick up this second book as I found it a totally gripping thriller. These books are closely tied, with Without a Trace picking up basically immediately after the end of the first book. The set up here is particularly interesting as the trilogy focuses on a set of series-long (and likely intertwined) mysteries, but each book focuses on a different couple. I was curious to see how the investigation would shift with our new protagonists, particularly since Sawyer from book 1 is the police chief and therefore the logical person to guide the investigation. But R.J. Scott really integrates these books seamlessly and this story felt like a very natural progression from the first.

The Lancaster Falls series is such an engaging small town mystery. This is a town where everyone knows one another, but it is also full of secrets. I am loving getting to know the characters of this town — both the good and the bad. Their paths are twisty and intertwine, as you would expect from a place so small and insular. So it makes the mystery all the more engaging as we slowly meet people and learn their stories and what part they may play, both then and now. Despite the large cast, I never had trouble keeping up with everyone and I think this book does a nice job expanding our Lancaster Falls world and building new threads. As the stories develop, we are learning more about what happened all those years ago, and it is twisty and fascinating. Seeing things through Logan and Drew’s POV in this story opens up new characters and new aspects of the mystery to explore through their eyes.

Scott is building this mystery well and we have multiple investigations in play. While we know now that Casey was killed and dumped at Iron Lake, we still have no idea why or by whom. We also have the mystery of all the other bones they found and who they may belong to. Also, the town is still plagued by graffiti and signs suggest that it is somehow connected, but the pieces aren’t all together yet. Plus, we have a host of questionable and shady characters around town, all with their own stories and secrets. So I think the set up here is working well, and once again Scott gives us a nice resolution to some key areas, but at the same time, we are still left with many questions to resolve in the final book.

Where I struggled here is that this story feels very “middle book” to me. There are a lot of pieces moving around throughout the book, but not much actually gets revealed. It just sort of felt like treading water until the very end when some things heat up (and though I had some suspicions, I was still quite surprised with how things came together in the end). Drew and Logan spend a lot of time running around and talking to various people, as well as working through leads. But for most of the book, we learn virtually nothing new. So it just seemed like a lot of moving things around without accomplishing much. The final book focuses on the federal part of the investigation, so I knew that we wouldn’t get all the answers here. But What Lies Beneath felt like a lot more was happening and a lot of forward progress, whereas this story felt a little more stagnant.

I also wasn’t really feeling the connection between Drew and Logan the way I hoped. This isn’t quite enemies to lovers, but the men are at odds from the start as Drew is charging in and stirring up trouble and Logan keeps getting called in to help resolve the conflicts. So while Drew’s urgent desire to find his brother’s killer is understandable, Logan is also frustrated that Drew is trying to go it alone and causing problems. When the guys get together the first two times, it seems like anger-fueled lust as they come together fast and hard and then pull away from each other. Which wouldn’t be a problem if we then didn’t jump right to these guys having strong romantic feelings for one another. I felt like we just skipped over too much of talking and getting to know each other phase. Virtually all their conversations revolve around the case; I just had trouble seeing them as a romantic couple, versus two men letting off steam with sex together. I also felt like Drew’s backstory need a little more fleshing out. We know he is in an elite military team, but it doesn’t come through much in his character. There is also reference to something bad happening that led to the suggestion it may be time for him to get out of the service, but we never learn what it is. It is brought up a few times and just felt like an undeveloped thread.

I am listening to this trilogy with narrator Sean Crisden and I think overall he is doing a nice job. My issues with the first narration pretty much carry over here: Crisden speaks very quickly and he doesn’t have a wide range of voices. This is a big town with a million side characters, so I don’t expect someone to be able to differentiate them all. But even between Drew and Logan, I found there wasn’t much distinction. On the other hand, there were also times when one chapter ended and another began with the same POV character doing the narration and the voices didn’t sound the same. I was also bothered that Logan is described as having a noticeable New York accent in the book, but he has none in audio. I realize not all narrators can do accents, so this isn’t something totally unusual. But when it is called out like that in the book, it feels weird to me to not hear it in audio. That said, I think overall the narration works and I found myself enjoying listening to the story and Crisden does a good job capturing the overall flow and energy.

So I did have some issues with this one versus the first installment, but I will say, I am all in with this series. Scott has done a wonderful job building a really fascinating (and at times creepy) mystery with a town full of interesting characters. Even as we learn new things, more is uncovered. I found this book didn’t move things forward quite as much as I wanted, at least until the end, but I also couldn’t stop listening as I am so eager to see how it all plays out. I have the third book already in my audio queue and I can’t wait to see how it ends!

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