Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Wonderful writing and characters in gripping plot
Cons: None worth noting
The Bottom Line:
Lives spinning out of control
Another Debut I Should Have Read Sooner
While I don’t always read all of the books nominated for the Agatha Awards each year, I do pay attention. After Annette Dashofy was nominated twice for her Zoe Chambers series, I decided I had to put the series on my to be read list. I finally dusted Circle of Influence off and read it, and it’s easy to see why this book was nominated for best first novel.
Zoe Chambers is the assistant coroner and an ambulance paramedic in the small community of Vance, Pennsylvania. On one snowy January night, she parks her ambulance for a couple of hours to attend the local township’s board meeting. The meeting is filled with tension, mostly thanks to the antics of Jerry McBirney. Zoe has her own reasons for hating Jerry, but Jerry recently seems determined to anger the Bassi family, some of Zoe’s closest friends.
After the meeting breaks up, Police Chief Pete Adams is called to check out an abandoned car, that of Jerry. When he arrives, he finds a dead body inside, and quickly calls Zoe to the scene. It isn’t long before the two are embroiled in a case that hits very close to home. What will they learn?
Honestly, if you sat down to read this book not knowing it was a debut novel, you’d never guess. It is that polished. Take the weather. Yes, I’m starting with the weather. This is set in Pennsylvania in January, which means ice and snow. Without ever slowing the story down, I felt that cold weather while reading this book. What makes that even more remarkable is that this July here in Southern California, we’ve been experiencing record heat.
The winter ice also makes a great metaphor for the plot. It slips and slides all over the place. You never know when you will hit a twist and spin around. I might have actually gasp at one of them. The climax is strong and perfectly logical. There is so much tension in this book it was almost impossible to put down, which explains why I was up later than I should have been finishing it.
While the series is called the Zoe Chambers series, it really has two main characters – Zoe and Pete. We spend equal time with the two of them as our limited third person narrators. The author takes full advantage of that to build suspense and keep the pages turning.
Much of the success of this book rests on how attached we get to the characters so quickly. They truly are that strong. In lesser hands, I don’t think I would have been pulled in like I was.
Now make no mistake about it, this is not one of the light, cozy reads I tend toward. This is on the traditional end of the spectrum, and the subject matter is a little darker as a result. There’s still nothing too graphic here, it is traditional, after all.
Discovering a wonderful series with multiple books already published is a mixed blessing. It means you have immediately added multiple books to your to be read list, but it also means you have many wonderful reads in front of you. That is definitely the case with Circle of Influence. If you haven’t started this series yet, don’t wait any longer. Once you’ve read it, you’ll be like me, looking forward to visiting Zoe and Pete again soon.