A Tainted Mind by Tamsen Schultz
OBSESSED with her job as a medical examiner and lead consultant with the FBI, Dr. Vivienne ‘Vivi’ DeMarco is a woman running from her own demons. And finding the remains of a body on the side of a road in rural upstate New York wasn’t part of her plan.
FRUSTRATED that the ghosts from his past won’t leave him alone, Ian MacAllister makes for a reluctant Deputy Chief of Police of Windsor, New York. But as more victims are discovered, all women that bear a shocking resemblance to Dr. DeMarco, he knows he’ll need to call on all the skills he learned as an Army Ranger if he wants to keep her safe.
DENIED over and over again of the one thing he desires most, a killer may have finally reached his breaking point. The only question that remains is, will he take Vivi and Ian with him?
I really enjoyed reading A Tainted Mind. It’s a mystery and romance that builds to a suspenseful climax and has a satisfying ending. The focus of the story is about finding a killer after Dr. Vivienne DeMarco discovers a skeleton as she’s passing through the small town of Windsor, New York. Vivi decides to work with Deputy Chief of Police, Ian MacAllister, to solve the case. The blossoming romance between them occurs over the course of the story and is cleverly connected to the case itself.
Vivi and Ian meet under unfortunate circumstances when she contacts him about a corpse she finds. When they first begin working together, Vivi is a reluctant colleague even after Ian persuades her to help solve the murder, and there’s no insta-love or insta-lust in this book. The romance between them develops gradually over the course of the story, and their backstories, professions, sense of duty and driving need to help others unite them as kindred spirits.
Both are straightforward and honest in expressing their feelings and growing desire for one another. They have the uncanny ability to read, understand, and reassuringly respond to each other even when thoughts are left unspoken. The mutual respect, support, and easy camaraderie between them gradually moves to a deeper level of trust, love, and devotion that make them a great fit together. It was refreshing to read a romance that skips the head games and wishy-washy feelings couples sometimes experience as they find their way to each other.
When Vivi and Ian meet, both are lost and uncertain of the future direction of their lives. Even though they are both in their early-to-mid thirties, their consistent level of maturity, knowledge, and wisdom make them appear older than they are. At the age of 33, I couldn’t believe how much Vivi had already accomplished. She’s a genius who started college at sixteen, and now she’s a police detective, medical examiner, FBI consultant, and adjunct professor. Her career background was almost too much to be believable –but it’s fiction, right? It seems she has spent her adult life solely focused on her career. Her expertise and vast knowledge play a crucial role in solving the case and, although Ian is impressed with her skills, he is never intimidated, jealous, or threatened by her qualifications.
Ian is ex-special forces and new to this line of work. He isn’t even certain he wants his job and feels insecure when faced with his first major case. Ian isn’t always the confident, alpha male often ascribed to other male characters who work in his field, and I like that he isn’t afraid to reveal his vulnerabilities and self-doubts about his capabilities as the case becomes more complicated. However, Vivi’s unwavering faith in him and her quiet encouragement help enable him to step up and lead his team to solve this daunting case rather than sitting back and allowing the FBI to come in and take over.
The attraction and sexual tension between Vivi and Ian is described is emphasized early in the story, and they have one intense, passionate scene together, but their romance never overshadows their mission to find the person responsible for a series of murdered and missing women. It was fascinating to watch Ian’s team discover the clues and evidence that lead them to an unsuspecting killer motivated by a surprising obsession. Shultz provides lots of detailed explanations behind this complex, tedious process in contrast to TV crime shows where crimes are solved in an hour.
This was a great story, and I look forward to reading more of Shultz’s work in the future.
I received a copy of this book from the author for an honest review.
“You gotta be kidding me.” Ian crossed his arms and stared at the board. The newly updated board of death. They’d started with eighteen women, three confirmed dead and the other fifteen missing. The last time Ian had looked at the board, Carly had eliminated five of the victims, bringing the number down to thirteen women who fit the profile.
This board had twenty-one women on it. Girls, some of them. And went back over fifteen years.
“There were a few earlier than this woman, or, uh, girl,” Carly corrected herself, pointing to the first picture on the board. Amanda Corlis, seventeen, found raped, strangled, and murdered in a summer resort town in southern Maine. She was probably getting ready to go to college. “But they only had one or two similarities so I didn’t include them,” she added.
“Shit.” Ian ran his good hand over his face. “So, how many of these women are missing and how many confirmed dead?” Ian couldn’t believe he was hearing those words out of his mouth. This wasn’t Afghanistan, asking for “confirmed dead,” while standing here in his small, quiet town was more than surreal.
“Ten in total are confirmed dead. The remaining eleven are missing, presumed dead,” Marcus answered. His voice sounded about how Ian felt.
“And do we have the files?” Vivienne asked.
Carly nodded. “I was able to track down everyone I needed yesterday, and we have all but one, but that one should be here today.”
They all stared at the board for a long, silent moment. Ian thought about turning to Vivienne and asking that she call in the Bureau. But as he studied the board, a pattern emerged in his mind. A plan.
“We need timelines,” Ian said.
His officers looked at him with a combination of curiosity and eagerness in their expressions. Vivienne’s face said something more along the lines of “you know what we need to do, now tell us.” That she didn’t bother to hide that little bit of “I told you so” brought a faint smile to his lips.
“A couple of timelines. Of the women we know are dead, we need to know when they went missing and the estimated times of death,” Ian continued.
“To get an idea of how long he holds them,” Marcus interjected, speaking more to himself than anyone else.
“But we also need to know more about where they were last seen. If they were seen at a bar on Friday night and reported missing on Saturday, we’ll have a more reliable sense of when the clock started ticking for them,” Ian kept talking.
“But if they went missing from somewhere where it’s harder to lock down a time, like if they went camping by themselves or something like that, then we need to take that into consideration,” Carly added, catching on.
Ian nodded. “We also need to know where they went missing from and where the bodies were found. If there is any pattern there, it might give us an idea of how far he takes them from the grab sites. And it might also help us know where to look for the other women, depending on what we find.” Both Carly and Marcus moved into action—pulling up their computers, calling off dates and locations, examining the files.
“Ian?” Vivienne’s voice held a note of concern.
He swiveled his eyes from his officers to Vivienne. He could tell by the look on her face that she’d seen the same pattern on the board he had. He gave an almost imperceptible nod.
“And folks, I hate to say this, but I think we need to work fast,” Ian added. Both heads shot up. “When he started his spree, he went after about one woman a year for several years,” Ian continued. “But in recent years, his attacks have been getting closer and closer together. If all these women really are his victims, a few years ago he went after two a year. Then there were the three in Boston, all in one year. After that, it looks like there might have been a short break for some reason, but he picked up again a little less than a year ago, and since then he’s already gone after two, with Rebecca being the most recent.”
“What does that mean? Other than the obvious, I mean,” Marcus asked.
“It means that he is devolving,” Vivienne answered. “Whatever it is that’s driving him is becoming more and more of an obsession. To the extent he’s losing control over it.”
Tamsen Schultz is the author of The Puppeteer and “American Kin” (a short story published in Line Zero Magazine) and is a three-time finalist in the Pacific Northwest Writers Association annual competition. She worked in the field of international conflict resolution and co-founded a non-profit prior to attending law school. Since graduating, she has worked as a corporate attorney and, like most real lawyers, she spends a disproportionate amount of time thinking about what it might be like to do something else. She lives in Northern California in a house full of males including her husband, two sons, a cat, a dog, and a gender-neutral, but well-stocked, wine rack. A Tainted Mind is her second novel and her third, These Sorrows We See, is tentatively scheduled for release in late 2013.
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