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Reviewed by Lit Amri for Readers' Favorite
In Shortcuts (A Valerie Benchik Novel) by E.V. Stephens, the body of Curtis Shelton－a serial rapist and killer who was released from prison on a technicality－is “found in a dumpster with his throat slashed like his victims”, suggesting an act of personal revenge. Detective Valerie Benchik and her partner Greg Payton visit the victims’ families to investigate and establish their alibis, a job that Val finds emotionally hard to do and her commitment to the case is questioned. She then finds her estranged sister, Kelly, had returned to town, harboring a painful secret for years and shockingly received news that the man who murdered her childhood friend, Annie Fiorello, is being released from prison after a key witness recanted his testimony. Val's resolve is further tested when her best friend, Connie Warren, became a victim of a street mugging. There’s one man that is the catalyst of all her misery and loss and she decides to pay him a visit.
Protagonist Val immediately had my attention as I enjoy a character who has a sharp sense that doesn’t overwhelm one's other traits, be these strengths or flaws. Stephens's narrative deftly rendered the dingy side of the town and the gruesome state of the crimes, including the antipathy of the perpetrators and the grief of the victims. The characters are real, tangible and complex. I was emotionally invested in Val's sentiments about Shelton’s case and the loss of her partner Payton's emphasis on doing their job, Connie's constant worry about Val's health and mental state, and the victims' families' silent suffering that highlights the fragility of the justice system again and again. There were quite a number of red herrings which made it more challenging to connect the dots; the frustration and personal conflicts of the characters easily resonated from page to page. Almost halfway into the story, readers will find out how the title Shortcuts is justified. Emotional and gritty, this is one of the best and gripping crime novels that I’ve read this year.