REVIEW: The First Cut by Dianne Emley

The First Cut is Ms. Emley’s debut suspense novel and I don’t think she did a bad job for her first time. This is the start of yet another series.

The First Cut narrative is told in third person but shares a POV that is split between the protagonist  and the antagonists of the story. Rarely do I enjoy a novel where the villain’s POV is given and in this book, violence is front and center and brutal. Here is the plot summary:

For two minutes she was dead.

The assailant was vicious, the attack brutal–and it left her lifeless . . . until her pulse fluttered and she jolted awake. Now, a year later, detective Nan Vining is still questioning her strength, her safety, even her sanity: Can she ever again be the cop–and mother–she was before? And will her attacker someday return to finish the job, before she can track him down herself?

Shaky but determined, Vining rejoins the Pasadena PD, only to confront a murder case that strikes close to home: A slain policewoman has been discovered beneath the Colorado Street Bridge, her body bruised, her throat slit. Even as Vining struggles to recover her standing within the department, she can’t help but feel profoundly drawn to the murdered officer, Frankie Lynde–and she is deeply troubled by the baffling otherworldly visions that haunt her waking hours. Are these mere fever dreams? Or could they be, as Vining’s daughter insists, messages from beyond the grave?

Digging deeper into Lynde’s past, Vining discovers clues that set her on the twisted trail of a killer as ruthless as he is depraved–a predator whose methods and madness recall those of her own attacker. Amid a rising tide of danger, she pushes herself to bold new limits, desperate to avenge the murder of a fellow police officer . . . and to reclaim the life she lost a year ago.

The First Cut gets a solid B from me in that despite work and a busy schedule, I was was very engaged in this story from the first chapter. The story opens with vice LAPD cop Frankie Lynde disappearing after leaving a club with a couple in a limo. Her body is later found dumped by a bridge in Pasadena, California. Detective Nanette Vining is back after a year’s absence after she flat-lines for two minutes due to an brutal assault on the job. Her daughter Emily has nicknamed the man that hurt Nan as “T.B. Mann” aka The Bad Man.  T.B. Mann eluded capture and remains at large. Hence the sequel that is coming next. 

The attack has made some unwanted changes in Nan’s life. She struggles with panic attacks and post-traumatic stress syndrome. After returning to the Pasadena Police Department (PPD), she struggles with the Job.  Also, T.B. Mann’s assault on Nan seems to have given her some type of psychic ability to hear the dead speak. The author does an excellent job of making this element creepy.  Nan struggles to accept this “curse” and when it happens it is indeed creepy. The paranormal aspect of the novel is not the focus, however.

Other changes include Nan’s daughter Emily, who seems to now have a morbid fascination with ghosts, death and both of them live in fear of T.B. Mann’s return to finish the job. The author leaves hints that T.B. Mann will return but that didn’t happen in this book. Nan vows revenge while trying to reclaim her life. Her former partner and lover, Jim Kissick hands her the old case files on her assault case.

There is a subtle romantic subplot with Nan and Detective Jim Kissick. Kissick has two boys and is divorced. He and Nan, who is divorced as well, had a discreet affair that ended before the attack. The two tip toe around each other after Nan returns to the job. Kissick is still interested but Nan is reluctant at first. There’s more to come I’m sure as the series progresses.
The villains of the story are a husband and wife team. The husband has money and lives a luxurious lifestyle as a nightclub owner and that allows him to hide in plain view while he indulges in the seedier side of life. The wife is a tool for her husband to manipulate.  He keeps her hooked on meth to do his bidding as he continues to kidnap and sexually assault vulnerable females. One of those females was the LAPD vice cop found slain who was rumored to have been jaded by the job and crossed over to the “dark side” of law. There were a few scenes that involved conflict between the PPD and the LAPD. The usual political bullshit that often hinders investigations. The case does get top priority since the victim was the daughter of a PPD officer. Nan gets assigned to the case and partnered with Kissick despite the fact that she was assigned to robbery and found unfit to work Homicide due to her assault. Anyway, Nan is good police and held in high esteem by her peers. Thus she works the case.

The First Cut was  a solid police procedural with a few added bits of forensic detail. The ending was sort of a let down which didn’t make this a keeper.  I felt like the take down of the villain was reminiscent of cowboys and Indians.   There wasn’t the usual confession of the villain’s sick motive (loved that). The author let her characters solve the case and when they had probable cause, they went in for the arrest (loved that) and was rewarded with  a couple of bow and arrows to the arm and chest. I was like WTF when all that went down. The villain owns guns but he uses bow and arrows to take down two police officers?   It was quite comical to me.  

Author has a great ear for dialogue and pacing was great. Ms. Emley did her research. She does go a wee bit overboard with the info dumping. I appreciated the research but you have to learn how to blend it in really well so as not to have your readers feel lectured and distracted from the story.

I liked Nan Vining however she did get annoyed really quickly with her co-workers and with the general populace. She wouldn’t be all that likable to some readers. She has her hang-ups about love and life. Jim Kissick is easy-going, carefree and wants to get back together with Nan but is willing to give her time and space. The secondary characters like Lieutenant Early, Detectives Ruiz, Caspers and all the others kept me turning the pages. I felt like I was watching a TV show. The usual banter between cops and the usual police politics and tension to solve the case was well done. See, I’m a big fan of The Wire, a show that is unflinching on it’s view of violence and police corruption. While reading The First Cut, I was reminded of that show.

The villains were some really sick people who got what they deserved in the end. You’d wonder why I would read such a book if it has such brutal violence especially toward women and has the potential to give nightmares to all women living alone. However, fiction like this just doesn’t seem to bother me and I love me a good police procedural like the next reader. My grade, B+. This debut was very well done and I will be looking forward to the sequel.

[tags]Dianne Emley, Mystery Novel Review, The First Cut, Detectives[/tags]

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About Keishon

Voracious reader of just about everything.
This entry was posted in Grade B Reviews, Mystery and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to REVIEW: The First Cut by Dianne Emley

  1. jaq says:

    I skimmed the last half of this review, cause it was begining to feel spoilerish, but thanks for the heads up on this book. It’s on my radar now.

  2. Avid Reader says:

    Sorry, I’ll fix that. Sometimes I get carried away. Thanks Jaq!

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