The Shark (Forgotten Files), by Mary Burton

Virginia state trooper Riley Tatum lived an unusual life. She ran away from her New Orleans home as a teen. After a strange night that she lost all memory of, she landed in Richmond, Virginia, with a bus ticket and some playing cards in her pocket. She was taken in by Duke and his wife, given direction, and she made her way into a job as a state trooper. She also does searches with her dog Cooper.

When the body of a strangled girl shows up in her patrol area it initiates an investigation that begins to open up memories of the night that sent her on the way to Richmond. Working with detectives and a former FBI agent who she shared a night with a few years earlier Riley begins to track down a sinister poker game where the loser is forced to commit murder.

This is an interesting and tense mystery and Tatum is easy to like. It’s also a sexy kind of book that veers off into its sexiness in a frank way but in a way that was squirm-free for me, a male heterosexual reader. After trying out a few Sandra Brown mysteries at the urging of my late wife I swore off her completely. Not only were the stories repetitive but the sex scenes were almost identical, with every male lust-match described with the same terms.  I run into similar books written in the same pattern, and tend to blame the Sandra Brown success for serving as a model for aspiring writers.

Burton writes passion in a way that’s clearly from a woman’s perspective, and there are “plunged into her moistness” moments, but Burton writes in a different way. Perhaps it’s because this is not Tatum’s focus through the entire book. Further, the male lead has his flaws, and the relationship is tentative because of an earlier falling out. Sandra Brown wishes she wrote this well, and if book sales were based on fairness Burton would be on the NYT bestseller list and Brown would be self-publishing for Kindle readers.

A scan of scenarios for the other Forgotten books lists new characters and interesting story ideas. I won’t race out to buy one but if I see one in the store I’ll be happy to take one home.