The Doll Maker by Claire Highton-StevensonThe Doll Maker by Claire Highton-Stevenson will grab you and won’t let you go until the last page. It’s great suspense with authentic romance.

Detective Sophie Whitton battles competing priorities in her search for a serial killer who leaves calling cards in the form of mutilated dolls. The scenes are so disturbing, and her passion for justice so strong, that Sophie can’t leave the case at the office, or ever make it home at a decent hour.

The pressure to find the killer is as palpable as the strain on her relationship with her partner of four years. The killer becomes more brazen and more elusive. But as the case and her love life become more confounding, “Detective Whitton” must come to terms with “Sophie Whitton” or risk losing herself, and others. She must track a killer while managing a deteriorating relationship and what feels like more than just a fling with a woman who seems to understand the demands of her job. She is the best at what she does as a cop—smart, resourceful, and dedicated. The question is whether she can be the same in her personal life.

The Characters

The characters are well developed and authentic. Sophie Whitton is self-confident, and a bit surly. She is not broken as many protagonists in detective novels are, but that’s not to say that she’s not breakable. It makes you root for her throughout the novel.

Highton-Stevenson does an exceptional job of depicting credible relationships—co-workers, friends, lovers—through gestures and dialogue so familiar that you’d swear you know someone like the people involved.

The Writing Style

Short chapters and a steady stream of clues keep you riveted on the investigation, but honest emotion keeps you immersed in the love story as well. The third person narration sometimes shifts abruptly from one character to the next, but it’s easy to keep up with the character being depicted.

The Pros

I especially liked that Claire Highton-Stevenson spared us the gore and focused on the clues.

The Cons

Trigger warnings regarding abuse, sexual violence, and cheating may be in order, but they are dealt with delicately and with good restraint.

The Conclusion

Anyone who loves a great suspense will love this novel. And they’ll get a great love story as a bonus!

Excerpt from The Doll Maker by Claire Highton-Stevenson

Detective Inspector Sophie Whitton stood silently on the periphery, watching like a hawk. Her tall and wiry frame stood stoically as she glanced around the cordoned-off area. It was how she always surveyed the scene: standing back from it, taking it all in. Inquisitive eyes looked out from under a mop of black hair that hung longer at the front than the back. She swept a hand through it and felt the damp air slowly soaking in, before shoving her hands into her pockets. Hunching her shoulders against the cold, she blew a puff of hot air out.

The basic questions. Why here? Is there something special about the place that links to the killer, or the victim? How did he, or she, get the body here? Was the victim already dead, and this is just the body dump site? Or is this the execution site too? She went through everything in her head and drew her conclusions. Only later would she start to dissect them and focus on the areas that she could find answers for.

After pulling on her own forensic booties to match, she followed the designated pathway that forensics had deemed clear to walk on without fucking up the crime scene, until she found herself at the doorway to the tent. Chief Inspector Adam Turner stood hunched over the body like an old man taking a rest.

“House to house is taking place right now,” he informed his detective. She nodded. She already knew that would be the case; it was standard practice. He turned to leave. “I’ll see you back at the station.”

Tristan was bent down on one knee examining what Sophie knew to be the body of a young woman. There was nothing unusual in that; women turned up dead on her patch as often as young men did. No, what was unusual was what had been done to this body.

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About the author

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Veronica Gutiérrez is at work on her first novel about a queer Latina P.I. from East Los Angeles. A former community organizer, civil rights attorney, and corporate executive, Veronica draws from years of experience in those worlds for her writing. She and her wife Laura split their time between Los Angeles and San Francisco. The home bar enthusiasts and avid travelers host cocktail-lesson-themed fundraisers—called Mixology on a Mission—to help Los Angeles non-profits grow their donor base. Veronica published My Little Black Cocktail Book, a journal to organize her cocktail recipes and help others do the same.