It sounded like the perfect getaway to San Francisco native, Detective Katrina Hunter... a couple weeks off work, taking her prized sailboat out for a leisurely trip down the coast to Ensenada, Mexico.
At least, it would’ve been perfect... were it not for the fact that her fiancé--make that, ex-fiancé--was supposed to have been by her side, celebrating their upcoming nuptials. Or that it was actually a forced vacation, given her mandatory leave of absence from the SFPD after shooting her sister’s scary stalker. Yep, aside from those teensy little issues, everything should’ve been peachy.
Until, that is, her sun-dazzled, weary eyes go and spy what she swears is a mermaid, floating on a patch of seaweed. On closer inspection, the mermaid (rather disappointingly, if not surprisingly) turns out to be a dead young woman, whom Katy immediately reports to the nearest authorities. Unfortunately for her, though, that means the Mexican authorities... an overworked, underpaid--not to mention, rife-with-corruption--police force not known for showing patience (or leniency) to troublesome foreigners... not even, as she soon discovers, to their stateside counterparts.
Such is the stage for author R.P. Dahlke’s newest mystery-suspense, A Dangerous Harbor.
Back on the mainland, Katy assumes she’s in for a succinct, cop-to-cop discussion of events--how she found the body, her initial impressions of the scene, etc. Instead, her reception involves the least-welcoming of welcoming committees, which deposits her in a tiny, stuffy interview room, leaving her there to stew (literally and figuratively) for the next several hours.
Nor do things greatly improve once Chief Inspector Raul Vignaroli finally deigns to commence their little tête-à-tête. (Suave and sophisticated the Mexican-Italian cop may be, but his manners toward her--a fellow officer of the law--are sorely lacking.) And, to make matters worse, the police bring in another American--a scruffy handcuffed man Katy knew very well a long time ago--who’s been living in Ensenada, and is currently Suspect Numero Uno in the dead girl’s untimely demise.
After a grueling grilling by the mesmerizing-but-maddening inspector, both are released, with certain provisions. Her old friend--whose guilt is now in some doubt--has to promise not to flee the area. Katy, meanwhile, finds herself agreeing to remain docked for another week or so... during which time she’ll try to find out everything she can about the others staying at the same marina. The inspector has a likely group of candidates--all of them Americans--in mind; he just needs her to sniff out which among them is the most-likely guilty party. (She could refuse, but since someone from the police chained her beautiful boat to the pier while she was hanging out at the police station, she decides there’s little point. Besides, the man is awfully appealing.)
It isn’t long before she starts regretting her decision, though, as the cast of suspicious characters prove to be anything but helpful. (I was amused to realilze that they reminded me a bit of the “Gilligan’s Island” castaways.) There’s the wealthy, middle-aged (and married) business tycoon who owns the showiest pleasure yacht at the marina, and his much-younger, buxom (and not-his-wife) traveling companion; his stuttering accountant (suffering from a bad case of puppy love for the boss’s Pretty Young Thang) and the man’s bitter, domineering wife, on a crappy little boat that barely stays afloat; the muscle-bound young stud (with an ego to match) who pilots Mr. Big Bucks‘ boat; a laughably-incompetent, middle-aged magician who does tricks by night (and runs scams by day), and his less-than-enthusiastic younger assistant; and the bandy-legged, Mexican local hired to help out while everyone is moored there.
As Katy fends off advances from her exes, lands in the middle of catfights and drunken brawls, receives threatening messages, dodges bullets in the dark of night, worries about angering the local drug cartels, and even learns the ropes of owning a pet when she receives a “Baja fishing cat” (yes, she gets a kitten, and one who likes to fish, at that!), she realizes there’s something even more pressing on her mind... a growing attraction to the enigmatic Chief Vignaroli, who got her into this whole mess in the first place... and who also happens to be the one man she has no logical reason to think she could ever have.
A Dangerous Harbor is the second R.P. Dahlke book I’ve read (the first was A Dead Red Cadillac, check out my review here), and I definitely enjoy her easy style. She favors strong female leads with great senses of humor and some grit... women who don’t require rescuing, instead using their brains to think themselves out of predicaments. Realistic problems, such as prickly family relationships and normal insecurities, add to their believability.
Dahlke also provides her readers with a good sense of place when she writes; here, she describes solo-sailing on the ocean, and gives a nice feel for the Baja area.
One key difference in A Dangerous Harbor is there’s more emphasis on the romance aspect--a slow-burning sexual tension that gets hotter as the story progresses--which I suspect will please a lot of readers.
Dahlke’s books are quick, fun reads, diversions which only ask you that enjoy the ride. No trouble there. :)
GlamKitty Catnip Mousie Rating: A Fun Read (worthy of some fine mousie-batting)