“Cold Feet,” Karen Pullen’s debut novel, introduces us to ambitious Stella Lavender, a North Carolina SBI (State Bureau of Investigation) agent. Lavender is working as an undercover drug agent, wearing skimpy outfits and making drug buys in questionable neighborhoods. She’d rather switch to homicide investigations.
Lavender and her free-thinking grandmother attend an almost wedding that never takes place because the bride is found dead before she can walk down the aisle. Stella is pumped. A homicide dumped into her lap and she’s the first one on the scene? She’ll have the chance to prove that she’s ready to transfer out of the unpredictable narcotics scene.
But wait…why would anyone want to kill the bride? And poison her with such a grotesque result? The secret that Stella uncovers about the bride will pull the family apart and challenge the belief system of all those who knew her. But, was the secret worth killing for? As a bonus, the investigation reveals more than one secret during the search for the murderer.
Lavender teams up with a local detective and the autopsy discloses a fact about Justine (the victim) that creates a list of likely suspects longer than they thought possible. Nobody is beyond suspicion – even the groom is on the list. Jealousy, rage, old boyfriends, and cover-ups all play a part in the expertly crafted, multi-layered, adult plot threads. Not the least of which is that Stella’s day job is still ongoing, so she must balance the druggies with the murder, while saving herself and protecting her grandmother from the crazies in both arenas.
Pullen has written some great dialogue, in addition to interesting characters in “Cold Feet” that balance each other nicely. Stella herself is a well-drawn young woman with her own set of issues, and has the appropriate training, attitude, and skill set to carry off the lead role in an investigative series.
Interwoven with the action, “Cold Feet” presents an interesting look at a modern Southern value system – part religious, part political, part historical – that outsiders encounter whenever they enter the world graced with languid days, unspoken corruption, and slowly changing standards. Pullen describes the beauty of the countryside and the cherished traditions, while at the same time gently exposing the pull/push between the realities of the Old and New South.
Big takeaway from “Cold Feet”: The past will out and come back to trip you up. It may even get you killed.
Whatever you do, get Pullen’s next book, “Cold Heart,” out in 2017. For more information about Karen Pullen and her work, please visit www.karenpullen.com