Tidewater Murder is #2 in the Carolina Slade series by C. Hope Clark. I was late to the party, and unfortunately am reading the series in reverse order, having started with Palmetto Poison, which is #3. I really enjoyed Tidewater Murder, and would love to do an in-depth analysis of this book, but will forgo the pleasure because I don’t want to spoil anyone’s fun before they read the book. In the spirit of full-disclosure, a signed copy of this book was given to me by Hope Clark to review, but she fully understands that the review is my honest thoughts on her story, and if I hadn’t liked it I would not review it.
Although most book reviews start with a summary, I’m going to bypass that as there are many summaries I will link to that you can read online (Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble). Per Clark’s website:
“Lowcountry Bribe (Book one), Tidewater Murder (Two), and Palmetto Poison (Three) are part of the Carolina Slade Mystery Series by C. Hope Clark. Set in rural South Carolina, the series follows the adventures of Carolina Slade, a smart, focused, sometimes over-thinking woman who’s learned she’s more than a Federal bureaucrat. She likes justice, just her own way.”
So now, on to what I think of the book…
Characters–Carolina Slade is the star of the story. She is a special investigator for the US Department of Agriculture, a young widow, and mother to pre-teen Ivy and younger Zack. She has been dating Wayne Largo, a real lawman who is a federal investigator for the USDA. Special Agent Largo is a unique blend of macho, take-charge, handsome cowboy and sensitive, protective, thoughtful gentleman. They spend most of the story investigating what started as a simple case of suspected fraud involving Slade’s best friend, Savannah Conroy. Savannah is a professional woman in a man’s world, able to take control and get the respect of the men she is surrounded by, but not afraid to use her femininity if it gets her what she needs. Unfortunately her personal life is not nearly as controlled or orderly as her office. Clark does an excellent job of developing and rounding out these characters until the reader believes they are real people and friends. There is also an excellent cast of supporting characters and extras from all walks of life. It takes almost the entire book to figure out who’s good and who’s bad.
Language—For those who are sensitive to such things, there is very little profanity, and when it is used it’s so appropriate that it barely stands out. What I really loved was Clark’s ability to add the flavor of accents and dialects with a pinch of Spanish and French Creole phrasing so that the characters sound very distinctive, but the text is still easy to read and the touches of foreign words never distract or slow down the narrative. Very few authors that I have read pull this off as masterfully.
Plot—I haven’t pinpointed why, but it took me a little longer than usual to get lost in this novel. Not sure if it was the story or me, so take that for what it’s worth. By the time I got to the last third of the book, I couldn’t put it down and ended up staying up till the wee hours to finish it. What started as a simple audit uncovered a multitude of crimes in a small South Carolina coastal farming community. Clark seamlessly wove together Slade’s personal and professional life through her move into a new home, family struggles, single-mother guilt, new relationships, work politics, the investigation, friendships, physical attacks, emergency room visits, and near drowning. This isn’t a romance, but Clark added just enough attention to Slade and Wayne’s relationship to add another dimension to each of their characters while still leaving plenty to the imagination.
Ending— This ending wasn’t quite as satisfying as Palmetto Poison, but it was still good. I’ve been known to throw books across the room when an ending isn’t up to snuff, and Tidewater Murder remained firmly in my hands. Clark tied up the loose ends for her main characters, but not so much for many of the minor characters.
Dislike—Which brings me to my only negative comment. There were so many wonderful and colorful characters, but at the end it’s left to the reader’s imagination as how most of them ended up. I would have enjoyed knowing a bit more about many of the characters’ backstory and motivations, either throughout the story or as a final wrap-up. I understand that an author only has about 80,000 words in this genre, but some of the minor characters were just a bit too flat for my taste. I don’t know if I want an epilogue, additional chapters, or just more details, but I want to know when Mark Sanderson got involved and how and why. And I still don’t know if Evan’s a good guy or not—that character’s end-of-story was far from satisfying.
Recommendation–I thoroughly enjoyed Tidewater Murder and definitely recommend it. I would give it 4 stars out of 5. Keep in mind it is a murder mystery/suspense novel, and would be rated PG-13 for language, violence, and adult topics if made into a movie. I look forward to reading more by C. Hope Clark. I am determined to read #1, Lowcountry Bribe, before she publishes the fourth Carolina Slade Mystery. If you found this review helpful, check out my review of Palmetto Poison here.