Source: Review copy
Publication: 9 November 2021 from Thomas & Mercer
My thanks to Lisa Gray and Thomas and Mercer for an advance copy for review
She found love on Death Row with her prison pen pal. She’s been missing ever since. Can Jessica Shaw track her down?
A missing persons case should be pretty straightforward for private investigator Jessica Shaw. After all, it’s what she does best. But this latest case proves to be anything but straightforward.
Christine Ryan is desperate to find her childhood friend Veronica Lowe. Veronica disappeared more than fifteen years ago, not long after having a child with a Death Row inmate, notorious serial killer Travis Dean Ford. When Ford’s widow, Jordana, is murdered in the same way as his victims, Christine fears Veronica and her daughter will be next. If they’re even still alive…
Discovering that both Veronica and Jordana were members of the Lonely Hearts Club, a pen pal service for women who want to write to men in prison, Jessica realizes she needs to find Veronica before the killer does. But as Jessica follows the leads it begins to feel like someone is following her. Travis has been dead for years, so who is hunting the Lonely Hearts?
I really enjoy Lisa Gray’s Jessica Shaw series. Jessica is a P.I. now working in California with an agency whose principal, Matt Connor, causes Jessica to keep her distance, because though she’s tough and no-one’s pushover, her heart is a bit bruised and she really does not want to get hurt again. But she needs the hours with the agency to enable her to get her full P.I. licence so she grits her teeth and gets on with it.
Lonely Hearts is a dual timeline story, which follows two cases – one a missing woman whom Jessica is asked to trace and the other, a case that LAPD Detective Jason Pryce and his partner Medina are assigned, of the murder of a woman named Jordana Ford.
Though they don’t yet know it, both Pryce’s case and Jessica’s are linked – through the infamous serial killer Travis Dean Ford, known as The Valley Strangler, to whom Jordana was married. Lisa Gray’s novel looks at that most American of things – a dating agency for prisoners. Well, it’s not quite a dating agency, though that’s often how it turns out. The Lonely Hearts Club is a pen-pal club for women who want to write to and meet prisoners; some of them, like Travis Dean Ford on Death Row.
Jordana has done very well for herself out of her marriage to an infamous serial killer. She’s now a successful author on the back of her books about their relationship, though the relatives of Ford’s sixteen victims do not look upon her with kindness. Before she was murdered she had brought out one last book and was planning to retire on the proceeds.
Jessica’s case is tracking down Veronica Lowe, a close friend of Christine Ryan, Jessica’s client. Veronica and her daughter Mia went missing 15 years ago and now Christine is deeply concerned for her friend. That’s because Mia is the daughter of Travis Dean Ford born after she contacted him through the Lonely Hearts Club and before his marriage to Jordana. The manner of Jordana’s death has given Christine Ryan cause to believe that someone is targeting women Ford has had a relationship with.
Lisa Gray writes a fast paced and tight novel with plenty of action and cracking, whip-smart dialogue that moves effortlessly between past and present. We are taken back to an early victim of Ford’s and see how he targets the women who become his victims, all of whom have similar characteristics.
Jessica works Veronica’s life, looking into her past and her introduction to The Lonely Hearts Club and its owner Bibi, while Pryce is investigating Jordana’s murder. It seems Christine Ryan may be right in fearing for the safety of her old friend.
Gray’s book offers perspectives from Jessica, Pryce and Jordana, switching points of view and keeping the story tight and buzzing with new information.
As Jessica methodically pieces together the cold case, working all the angles of Veronica’s life, her investigations lead her into dangerous territory. A road trip to Arizona offers answers, but first she has to survive everything that life is throwing her way and that’s perilous in the extreme!
Verdict: A fascinating, taut and enthralling thriller with a terrific protagonist that makes you hungry for more from Jessica Shaw.
Lisa Gray is an Amazon #1, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal bestselling author. Her debut novel, Thin Air, was a Washington Post and Wall Street Journal bestseller and was Amazon.com’s third-bestselling Kindle eBook of 2019. Bad Memory was a Wall Street Journal bestseller and longlisted for the McIlvanney Prize. Dark Highway was published in November 2020. Lisa now writes full-time.