CATCH YOUR DEATH by Lissa Marie Redmond

Catch Your Death
(Cold Case Investigation #6)
By Lissa Marie Redmond
Severn House — 2nd August 2022
ISBN: 9780727891327
— Hardcover — 240 pp.


Cold Case Detective Lauren Riley and her partner Shane Reese are enjoying lunch at a restaurant after following up on a tip about an old mafia hit received by their department in the Buffalo, NY police. The tip seems to be another dead end; the woman they had gone to question would only tell them that sometimes, it’s best to let the past die.

Those words take on added meaning for the partners when Reese runs into an old high school friend, Chris Sloane, at the restaurant. Chris is opening a new luxury spa/hotel in the ski country south of the city, and wants to use that as an opportunity for a reunion of their high school friend group. He politely invites Lauren to come along for a fully comped experience.

These circumstances force Shane to reveal to his partner a dark moment from his past, painful memories of an unsolved murder that this reunion will surely drag up. Seventeen years ago their high school friend Jessica Toakese was found murdered, her body recovered from the Buffalo river within an industrial, working class neighborhood that now is the site of trendy bars and canal-side leisure. Reese, along all the other friends in the group, had been suspects in the investigation, an investigation that never led to any charges. The friends haven’t seen much of one another since. Since joining the Cold Case squad, Reese has looked into the official records himself, trying to find answers and resolution.

Upset that her trusted partner has kept this history (and a secretive personal crusade) hidden from her, Riley insists Shane takes a step away from the case, and allow her to take a fresh look into things, an exercise that could be aided by her opportunity to meet all the people involved all those years ago during the upcoming reunion at the spa.

However, once at the hotel, things quickly get out of Lauren’s control. Catch up chat among the former friends erupts into drunken chaos. One of them, a true-crime enthusiast named Erica, announces that she has figured out who actually killed Jessica, and promises to reveal all in a recording of her podcast the next day.

The next morning, Erica is found dead in her room, her throat slashed. An overnight blizzard continues to rage outside, trapping the guests inside the hotel, stranding thousands on roads and highways within the snow-belt, and preventing emergency services from getting to the murder scene.

Riley is left on her own, in unconventional circumstances, to try to take charge of the scene, separate witnesses, protect the integrity of any evidence, and stop further violence from occurring. And maybe, amid all that, she can identify and catch a killer.

Whether you have kept up with all of Redmond’s Cold Case Investigation novels, have sampled a few, or haven’t read one yet, Catch Your Death is a fine opportunity to jump into the series or enjoy a murder mystery/police procedural as a stand-alone.

I previously reviewed the second novel from the series, The Murder Book, after getting a copy at an author signing at a local book store. Though I never put up reviews, I went back to read the first novel, and then also bought and read the third. I also happened to pick up and read The Secrets They Left Behind, a fully stand-alone mystery novel outside Redmond’s Cold Case Investigation series. I actually didn’t know there had been further books in that series until happening upon Catch Your Death while browsing NetGalley. I immediately jumped on it to request. I wish someone would have told me of the last two novels in the series, now I’ll have to go back and find those.

All this is simply to say that I really enjoy Redmond’s writing. Her characters, her plot, and her prose are all superbly engaging. Even with that being said, Catch Your Death also happens to be the best I’ve read from her. Each of her novels has been entertaining and worth the read, particularly for a mystery or police procedural fan. For residents of Western New York like myself, there is added appreciation found in these by reading about local details. But, for someone outside of the area, the Cold Case Investigation novels might lack that special something to set them apart from other police procedurals.

Catch Your Death has that special something, though, a fullness and balance beyond what could be found in the earlier novels of the series. Firstly, this is not just a modern procedural, it is also a classic styled murder mystery, like an Agatha Christie set in some isolated manor house. Redmond achieves this with a modern setting by taking advantage of her Buffalo snow belt winter setting. The region has frequently been hit by surprise blizzards of snow and ice that bring life to a stand-still, cutting people off from travel, stranding people on the road, at home, at work, etc. Redmond’s use of this for the plot in Catch Your Death is not remotely a contrivance, it’s realistic and brilliant.

Pulling off a classic-feeling, cosy ‘locked room’ murder mystery in the modern age is one thing, but Redmond adds other elements to this to make it even richer. Just as the isolation of the pandemic forced us to connect experimentally in virtual ways, so too does the situation of Catch Your Death force Lauren Riley to virtually connect with other police authorities in reporting the murder and managing things ‘by the book’ in the aftermath. It’s a murder investigation done remotely, with Riley Facetiming the state police who can’t physically get on site. Redmond’s expertise and previous professional experience as a cold case detective in Buffalo comes into play here as she also demonstrates all the hoops Riley must jump through during her taking charge of the scene and subsequent investigation to ensure that everything is done legally, in ways that won’t compromise evidence or negate confessions. After all, it’s not as easy as something like Murder, She Wrote makes it seem.

Beyond the excellent mashup of procedural with classic murder mystery, Redmond also succeeds with Catch Your Death in bringing the setting fully alive with chilled weather that almost becomes a character of antagonism in and of itself, a force for Lauren to overcome. She also handles the cast of characters well, showcasing the petty bickering, jealousies, and hostilities that can be dredged up by a tragedy, and years without resolution or justice.

Finally, even with all these elements helping the novel succeed on its own terms, Redmond also uses it to nicely advance the overarching plot threads of the series, most notably the relationship between Riley and Reece. I like and prefer it being a platonic relationship rather than one of romance, but it’ll be interesting to see where things go next to take the series in new directions and new possibilities. (After going back to see what I missed in the last novels!)

Mystery fans should really enjoy the frigid temperatures and fiery emotions that Catch Your Death has to offer. It’s a well-rounded homage to the genre that still innovates, it’s a page-turner with a lot of psychological depth of character underneath. If Redmond or Severn Press reads this, please don’t let me miss out on the next.


THE MURDER BOOK by Lissa Marie Redmond

The Murder Book
(Cold Case Investigation #2)
By Lissa Marie Redmond
Midnight Ink — February 2019
ISBN: 9780738754277
304 Pages — Paperback


An unknown assailant stabs cold-case detective Lauren Riley at her desk late one night as she works alone in a Buffalo, NY Police Department. Barely surviving, and awakening in the hospital, she remembers only one clear detail of the man who attacked: he wore department issued uniform boots. Lauren soon learns the motive for the attempted murder by one of the department’s own. The cold-case murder book, the paper and photographic trails of outstanding murder investigations, is gone. Though her partner Shane Reese tries to ensure she recovers from near death, Riley instead becomes intent on discovering who assaulted her, and why they needed the murder book so badly. Discovery of a recent anonymous phone call to a now-defunct police hotline leads Riley to retired detective Charlie Daley to help track down a frightened witness who may have reawakened secrets thought covered up long ago.

I discovered The Murder Book, second in Lissa Marie Redmond’s Cold Case Investigation series, after happening upon the author at a signing at Barnes & Nobel. I’m always hesitant to start a new series, but I’m also one to welcome kismet and give support to a local author when it seems like a book I might enjoy. Often it ends up being mediocre, but I happily tore through The Murder Book and have now ordered the first novel in the series. 

There’s no shortage of mystery series out there, so the successful ones need to have something unique to set themselves apart, some sort of charm to endear themselves to readers. Most often authors accomplish this with iconic characters or setting, building a recipe that offers the familiarity of routine, spiced with something quirky or exotic. They also must offer entertaining stand-alone stories that still propel longer character arcs and an expansion of the cast and scenery. During this the writer needs to somehow pull off the trick of allowing their heroes and villains to develop, but without the essential nature of those characters to be altered.

Redmond’s professional background imparts the first special quality to her series. As a retired cold-case-homicide detective, Redmond has the expertise to infuse her plot and dialogue with details of authenticity. Set in Buffalo, the series contains local references that some readers might also appreciate. This aspect initially attracted me to wanting to read it, but I soon realized most of the references fall in the Southtowns. It might as well have been set in Boston, like a Spenser novel, for the lack of the familiarity I have with anything down there. Nevertheless, these details still provide a lived-in atmosphere to the setting that mystery series are known for.

Though it may be simplest to categorize the novel in the ‘mystery’ genre, The Murder Book isn’t the kind of story where the reader should search for clues to figure out ‘who done it’. Instead it could be more precisely characterized as a police procedural, about the investigative steps taken by Riley and her associates to bring her attacker to justice and resolve the old case that instigated the theft and her attack.

Like a procedure, Redmond writes with an instinctive, logical style that forms a well-crafted linear plot built from strings of revealed facts. While the identity of her attacker is at first unknown, Riley discovers his identity, and the gist of his motive, with relative ease. Rather than through the thrill of following that mystery, reader captivation arises through the intricacies of what Riley does once armed with her knowledge, the answer to those mysteries. Riley and her associates may know the truth, but that is far from sufficient to bring charges, close a case, or deliver justice to victims. The focus of this story is on how Riley and her associates can find a way to get the evidence they needed to prove who has stabbed her, and why it was done. One might think that the details of closing a case could get boring, but Redmond keeps the procedural aspects engaging by keeping the dangers to Riley ever-present. Knowing the identity of the person who stabbed her doesn’t help her much if they remain free and a threat to her. If anything, the tension gets worse as Riley knows more, but still feels vulnerable. Seeing how she overcomes that to outsmart the criminals and overturn power differentials fueled my enjoyment of The Murder Book

Starting with Riley, a cast of complex, fleshed-out characters makes Redmond’s job of holding reader interest easier too. On top of being at physical risk from her job, Riley also has a history of dealing with troubles in her personal relationships. Frustrated with herself over her attraction to the wrong men, Riley has an ex-husband who still induces sexual tension, and an abusive ex-fiancé. Yet, with the support of her daughter and other family members, Riley keeps finding an inner strength and stubbornness to keep going, unapologetically, to meet her challenges and surpass them. A good male support in her life is her devoted partner Reese, and the natural banter that flows between them makes their platonic relationship a big strength of the series. You actually get the sense that Reese has his own personal faults, and isn’t an ideal guy for a romantic relationship either, consistent with Riley’s attraction to, or connection with, a certain kind of guy – even if just in friendship.

Daley, the retired detective also provides a nice addition to The Murder Book, a voice of age and experience who is able to connect Riley and Reese to parts of Buffalo that normally keep distance from the police. I’m hoping we’ll see more of this character in the future, his maturity and realism allow a great perspective, connecting the detectives to not just elements of the criminal underbelly of the city, but also to economically marginalized communities who may fear police for very good reason. This latter theme ends up being a major component of the plot, and Redmond deals with it extremely effectively.   

However, the most fascinating character for me is David Spencer, a client of Lauren Riley’s side-job, whose story picks up from the main plot thread of the first book of the series. Though she began defending him, Riley is now convinced that Spencer has gotten away from murder. Though she has parted ways from her former client, he continues to appear in her life, as if taunting the truth about him that she knows. Dangerous and intelligent, Spencer represents something Riley shouldn’t want anything more to do with. But, his put-on charm and his perseverance at playing a sick game nonetheless draws her attention back in, holding hope that she might get proof of crimes that can put him away.

Even though I haven’t yet read the first novel of the series (A Cold Day in Hell) that unfolds this history between Riley and Spencer, I had no problem picking up on its highlights in relation to the main and sub-plots of The Murder Book. Moreover, it hasn’t detracted me from wanting to still read the first book, even knowing where it goes. Spencer represents a perfect series-long antagonist who will continue to plague Riley & Reese (and please readers) through future installments with his wicked genius. A Means to an End, the third book in Redmond’s Cold Case Investigations series comes out in September, but there is still plenty of time to dig into either of the other two meanwhile.