Deep State by Chris Hauty and Lost Hills by Lee Goldberg
March is Women’s History Month and I’d like to be able to tell you my review choice reflects that but it doesn’t. Both of these titles have strong female leads but they are entirely fictional and contemporary.
The premise of Chris Hauty’s debut novel, Deep State, seems to have been pulled from current headlines, a populist president without previous experience and divisive politics. Hayley Chill, a new White House intern, steps into this situation seemingly immune to the tensions.
Hayley is an ex-military boxing champion. She is first introduced ready to defend her winning streak against a ringer. Her discipline, determination and intelligence result in victory and sure advancement. But she abruptly resigns her commission and has now turned up in DC assigned to Chief of Staff Peter Hall’s office.
Hayley is low man on the totem pole but her willingness to work and attention to detail soon find favor with Hall. Each morning she delivers a briefing book to his home at 5:00am. Then one morning he doesn’t answer the door and when she looks in the window he has collapsed in the kitchen. It appears he died of a heart attack but Hayley find a fresh errant footprint in the rapidly melting snow.
The suspicious intern starts digging for information and soon finds herself a target in a conspiracy to assassinate the president that reaches into the upper echelon of the government and the DC powerful. Even though after Hall’s death Hayley is moved to the president’s staff, she doesn’t know whom she can trust and is in a race against a powerful foe to thwart the assassination.
This novel requires you to accept some things with little or no explanation but the pace and action don’t give you much time to wonder. The tension filled climax will entertain then shock you. My reaction was ‘No!’ then ‘What!!’ and ‘How did I miss that?’. But keep reading because the author has some explaining to do.
I like novels with good characters and Hayley Chill is unique. She’s self-possessed, skilled, analytical, detached and gritty. I hope she makes another appearance soon.
My second strong female is Eve Ronin in Lee Goldberg’s novel, Lost Hills. Eve doesn’t have Hayley’s skill set. She’s a recently promoted detective in the Robbery Homicide Division of the Los Angeles County Sheriff Department with the nickname Deathfist.
Eve is recorded taking down and arresting the star of the Deathfist movie franchise. The sheriff and the department is weathering a scandal and bad press for abusing prisoners at the jail. When Eve’s takedown goes viral the sheriff latches onto that good press and puts Eve front and center with a promotion she coveted. Her fellow officers are not happy with her stardom nor her promotion hence the nickname and a less than cordial welcome.
Eve’s partner, Duncan Pavone, is counting down the days, 163, until his retirement so he isn’t concerned with how Eve got her job. He is willing to impart some of his hard-earned wisdom if Eve takes the lead and he can stay safe until his 4 months are up.
Their first call is to the spot where 3 jurisdictions come together. A dead man in a truck is a possible suicide and the truck is in LA County Sheriff’s jurisdiction. But Eve soon realizes the truck was moved across the jurisdictional line courtesy of two LA city detectives. Their next call makes Duncan wish Eve wasn’t so observant.
Tanya Kenworth and her two children, Caitlin and Troy, are missing from the house she shares with her soon to be ex-boyfriend. No bodies are found but the blood in the kitchen, at the door, in all 3 bedrooms and especially the bathroom tell Eve and Duncan they are searching for bodies and a killer.
Eve has good instincts and follows the few clues there are to a suspect within a day. The challenge then becomes finding the bodies and proving guilt. Eve is sure she has the right man but his smug self-assurance has her searching for what she missed.
Eve is relentless and when she realizes where she went wrong it’s a race against time and an out of control wildfire to prove a killer’s guilt and to save more than her case.
Goldberg builds this novel to a thrilling and satisfying conclusion. Eve is a likeable heroine and has a good supporting cast. This is the debut of what I hope is a long-running series.