Friday, September 24, 2010

Hard Evidence (I-Team #2) by Pamela Clare

     Hard Evidence is book 2 in the suspense filled I-Team series. This story focuses on one of the most horrific crimes imaginable – the buying and selling of human beings. It is something that I find so abhorrent, and how anyone can look into the face of an innocent child and think that it’s ok to force them into a life of prostitution or worse... is beyond my ability to comprehend. It takes a truly evil person to be capable of such atrocities, and I’ve no doubt that there’s a special place in hell just for men and women like the scum of the earth bad guy in this story.
     It couldn't have been easy but Ms. Clare gives us a clear, albeit brief, glimpse into the lives of these victims - what they endure, how they are physically controlled, emotionally manipulated and ultimately disposed of when they are no longer useful, and at no time did the information seem too intense or too graphic. While this story is definitely entertaining, it was also quite an education. We are taken from something we just hear about in the news to something I felt like I was actually there for, watching through the eyes  of those working this case, and that’s why I connected with the victims on a more personal - one human being to another - level. They are not just stories, not just words in a book or on the front page of a newspaper. They are people.  Mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, sisters, brothers, friends, neighbors… they are people who matter and Pamela Clare imparted all of this in a compelling, informative and heartbreakingly real way.
    Julian Darcangelo is an undercover FBI agent working with the Denver Police Department to help bring down a human trafficking ring. He’s been on this case for many years and now he’s this close **holds up thumb and forefinger to indicate about a quarter of an inch** to finding Alexi Burien, the mastermind behind this heinous operation and who has managed to stay one step ahead of him the entire time. It’s not just a job to Julian, it’s an obsession. It’s his life – what he eats, breathes and lives for, even in his sleep, is finding Burien and putting him out of business, once and for all. Like all the very best heroes across the genres, Julian has a few demons from his past, keeping him from forgiving himself for a mission which went horribly wrong – one he fully blames himself for. Now, as tragic as that sounds, it makes him all the more in need of loving, cuddling and hot sex… oh, sorry, did I say that “hot sex” part out loud? Well, whatever! It’s true, and I volunteer for the job because that’s just the kind of selfless person I am.
    But I digress….
     Tessa Novak is the cop reporter for the Denver Independent newspaper’s I -Team, an elite lineup of investigative reporters. Tessa has some secrets of her own, a past that she’s ashamed of, a past none of her coworkers know about. She’s relentless, feisty, and very, very good at what she does and she’s about to have her chance to prove that she’s worthy of a place on the I-Team. While stopping at a local convenience store for her much needed caffeine fix, she becomes an up close and personal witness to a drive by shooting in which a 16 year old girl is the gunman’s target. What Tessa witnessed, a cold, calculated murder has now become her sole focus. She’s determined to find out the whos, whats, whys and wheres of this senseless killing and in doing so gives new meaning to the word tenacious. Her first mission is to find the man in the dark leather jacket, who she saw hiding in the shadows at the scene of the crime.
    We’re also treated to revisits with the rest of the I-Team members and their significant others. In one of the cutest scenes in the book, Reece, Julian and Will are up working on the roof at Julian’s house:
     Julian looked down from the roof to find five pairs of sunglasses staring up at them, as if painting trim were a women’s spectators sport. “Are they always like this?”
     “Yes,” Reece and Will said together, smiling.
     Reece pulled his shirt over his head, dropped it to the ground below. “Personally, I enjoy being treated like a sex symbol—especially by my wife.”
     “Think of it as an investment.” Will took off his shirt, as well, displaying his football-player physique. “You’ll reap the benefits in the bedroom tonight.”
     Julian grinned. “Alright then boys—let’s work it.”
     He pulled off his shirt, picked up his bottle of water and drank, letting it spill down his throat and over his bare chest.
     From below, he thought he heard Holly groan.
     Now, that scene takes place at the end of the book, in the epilogue, after the bad guys are disposed of and life is back to normal. Where many authors just wrap up the story and give us an “and they lived happily ever after,” Ms Clare shows us their happily ever afters which I just love, and is a must for me if a novel is going to earn a 5 star rating. It’s the attention to detail throughout the stories and these special little moments and finishing touches that, for me, make these books stand out above the rest.
     The bottom line? What we have with Hard Evidence is an amazing story and unforgettable characters who, with the help of an incredible author, have given us a look into the darker side of humanity and has done so with such depth, such a compelling sense of duty, that I literally could not put this book down and as soon as I was through, wanted to pick it up and start it all over again. The relationship building between Julian and Tessa was sweet, believable and burning up the pages with steamy hot sex done the Pamela Clare way - sizzling hot! You’ll find yourself on the edge of your seat and you’ll stay there from the first page to the last! This author has romantic suspense down to a fine art and aren’t I just thrilled to have found such an exciting series to feed my addiction of this genre!

The I-Team reading order, so far:

1. Extreme Exposure
1.5 Heaven Can't Wait - a novella found in the out of print anthology Catch of the Day and on ebook
2. Hard Evidence
3. Unlawful Contact
4. Naked Edge
5. Breaking Point
5.5. Skin Deep
5.9. First Strike
6. Striking Distance
6.5. Soul Deep
7. Seduction Game
7.5 Dead by Midnight

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