moving mountains coverRating: 3.5 stars
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Length: Novel

 

FBI Special Agent Jacob Miles has been sent to the small mountain town of Silveridge, Colorado, to investigate a possible murder. The snowmobile death of a local drug dealer was ruled an accident, but the investigation doesn’t seem thorough, especially since the local sheriff is related to one of the potential suspects. Since the death occurred on National Park Service land, the feds are able to get involved, so Jacob is there to see if he can discover if there was anything shady going on with the initial investigation. To help keep his motives hidden while checking things out, Jacob is going undercover as a federal insurance investigator.

Jacob has arranged to stay with Ranger Cody Spencer from the National Park Service while he is in town. Jacob isn’t sure what to expect from Cody, but he figures at least he may be able to get more of the local inside knowledge from him. Jacob never anticipates that he will be so drawn to Cody or enjoy his company so much.

As Jacob digs further into the case, he learns more about who may have wanted Bobby dead, but things aren’t adding up the way they should. It is clear a lot of people are keeping secrets and getting to the bottom of things isn’t easy. When another body is discovered, the situation gets even more complicated. But even as Jacob works to solve the case, he is finding himself increasingly drawn to Cody. However, Cody still has no idea that Jacob works for the FBI and it’s hard to imagine a future where things could work out between them. As the case starts coming to a close and the days drift closer to the holidays, Jacob will need to figure out what he really wants and if there is any way he can have happiness with Cody.

Moving Mountains is a mystery/investigation story with a holiday twist. It is part of the Secret Santa collection from Pride Publishing, but the books all appear to be standalones that have a “secrets” theme, and you can definitely read this one without the others. The story is pretty standard fare for this type of trope, with a big city cop coming to a small town as a fish out of water, but also without high hopes for the investigative skills of the locals. Spending time in Silveridge gives Jacob a new perspective, so there is some sweet small town charm here. Overall, I found some things worked nicely for me about the book and others didn’t fully come together.

The set up here is the Jacob is going undercover to check up on this accidental death that his boss thinks was really a murder that wasn’t fully investigated. So the first issue I had is that Jacob is an FBI agent working in Washington, and it doesn’t make a ton of sense why he would be investigating the death of a random, low-level drug dealer in Colorado. The FBI has local field offices, yet Jacob is somehow working this case not being from the area, not having any kind of connected case, and without making any contact at all with the local agents. Yes, there is some degree of explanation that we learn later, but the premise still has to make sense as presented, and I found myself getting hung up on this as I read. Then, Jacob is going undercover as a “federal insurance investigator” and he is “auditing the finances of the case” to check that “all the right costing procedures were followed.” So his cover is federal insurance investigator, which implies someone is doing some sort of federal insurance fraud, but it is never clear what this fraud supposedly is. And I also don’t understand what this has to do with auditing and I wanted it to be clearer what was supposedly going on. I realize this is a cover, but it still has to make enough sense that anyone would believe it, particularly the law enforcement officials with whom he is working while investigating.

But it doesn’t really matter if his reasons for being there or cover story hold water, because Jacob doesn’t even attempt to do any sort of financial audit, even just for show to maintain his cover. He spends all his time investigating the murder. Which, ok, so he has to go undercover to hide the fact that he is investigating the murder from those who may have covered it up, right? But then he literally spends all his time investigating the case right in front of them the whole time he is there. I get that this is me being nitpicky, but given the whole story hinges on Jacob hiding his identity from Cody and other locals who are law enforcement officers, it needs to feel realistic that they would actually believe his cover story.

Also, for some inexplicable reason, Jacob has to stay with Cody while he is in town, because with federal budget cuts, it supposedly wouldn’t be realistic cover for him to stay in a hotel. So instead, he what? Calls up a random park service ranger in town and tells him he is going to bunk down in his home for days on end? Which… just no. This is not how the federal government works. If anything, Jacob would be in a cheap hotel far out of town to meet his government lodging rates, not expected to live in someone else’s home who is a complete stranger. It just feels like a lot of things are here for plot convenience without any thought to whether they make sense. For example, there are a million ways Jacob could have ended up staying with Cody that could have had the same result other than that the government having it’s employees have sleepovers in strangers’ homes.

Ok, so your mileage may vary on all of that and my guess is most of you won’t care at all, and if you don’t, that’s great, because you will likely be able to roll with this story more than I did. Once things got moving, I enjoyed the investigation. This isn’t high intensity suspense, but Coles does a nice job introducing various players and potential suspects. There is enough going on with the mystery to carry the story and keep things interesting though the end. I also liked the small town flavor and the various locals we meet. I appreciated that Coles includes some indigenous characters, which would be realistic for a community in this area. Some aspects of small town life are a little over idealized, but no more than most books with this setting. I liked Cody a lot and found him sweet and endearing. We get a nice sense of his background and what has shaped him as a character. There is a little bit of a grumpy/sunshine vibe between him and Jacob, which I enjoyed. You have to be able to deal with the fact that Jacob is lying to Cody the whole time about who he is, and I would have liked to see him give some more thought and consideration before jumping into bed with someone with little sexual experience under false pretenses. Also, I don’t feel like we get to know Jacob nearly as much as Cody. Beyond knowing he once dated a co-worker, we learn virtually nothing at all about him or his background. So I feel like some more character development for Jacob would have helped a lot.

Unfortunately, while I liked the main body of the story, the ending didn’t really work for me. The bad guy was a surprise, but the motivation behind the killing didn’t make a lot of sense to me and didn’t feel in character. But the bigger issue is that there is a second bad guy who is involved and this made zero sense to me at all. Spoilers ahead:

Spoiler title
Jacob’s FBI boss has sent him to Colorado, trying to get him to charge the wrong person and get the sheriff implicated in a cover up, all to stop an investigation into a local drug dealer. Because, somehow, this high level FBI agent from Washington has her hands in the small town Silveridge drug trade? The implication is that she is somehow working with the drug dealer,
but neither the reader nor Jacob ever learns the truth about any of it. Because the fact that this second person is involved is just dropped, the person never faces consequences, and no one seems to care. The whole mystery side of the story is just ended with no real wrap up and a second bad guy who made no sense to me at all floating free. It just ended things on a very weak note for me and took the energy that had been building right out of the story.

I think this book is going to appeal to folks who are just looking for a light holiday story with some mystery/investigation angles and aren’t bothered by whether things fully line up. And I know for a lot of people, that is all they want and need and that is great. I think this story will work for a lot of readers. I just felt like there were too many issues that either didn’t feel like they fully came together for me here or were left unresolved, making it hard for me to totally fall for this story.

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