Review: A Stranger at the Door – Rachel Marin #2 (Jason Pinter)

My usual disclaimer: this is the second book in the Rachel Marin series, and I have not read the first. However, I was able to read this as a standalone, with little to nothing lost or confusing.

The book opens with the musings of a teacher at the local high school on his ordinary, content life. There’s something he knows, though, and he sends an email to the titular Rachel Marin, couching it in somewhat vague terms, and asking to meet her to discuss it. We can tell this will not end well for him, and it doesn’t. When he answers to door and opens it for someone he appears to know, he is viciously beaten to death.

Rachel herself, and her two children, have settled into smallish town life in Ashby, Illinois. She’s seeing a detective with the Ashby PD, John Serrano, and working as a consultant for the APD. This was one area where reading the first book probably would have helped, but I’m not going to ding the story for that reason.

Serrano gets a call about a house fire and heads out. Rachel isn’t far behind. As it turns out, the house belongs to the (now dead) teacher, who happens to be one of Rachel’s son’s teachers. They find his body in his bed, and several hot points where accelerant has been used. But whoever set the fire has not bothered to try to hide the fact – meaning they are not concerned at all that anyone knows, and very likely want people to know.

The story moves from there into the whodunnit. We get a short intro (no names) to the bad guy’s right hand man, who is instructed to get close to Eric. This is fortunate the next day as Eric is about to get beaten up by bully. But once he’s under the wing of right hand man Ben Ruddock, who now has a name and who looks like a football linebacker, suddenly those types of issues go away. Ruddock invites Eric to join a fraternity of sorts – the description of it sounds like recruitment to some Dickensian group of misfits, with another man, Brice Bennett in the role of Uriah Heep.

As the investigation continues, Eric becomes more and more distant from his mother and sister, and the detectives are not having much luck finding anything as to who killed the poor teacher. Serrano interrupts at 1 AM meeting of the boys Ruddock has recruited, saving one of the boy from having his shoulder ripped out as Ruddock pins him.

Now the bad guys know they’re in trouble, and things get murkier and more dangerous along the way, with Rachel herself being clocked in the head by someone with a gun as she’s following Ruddock and Eric as Ruddock makes his rounds, handing out manila envelopes to various people.

In the middle of all this, someone from Rachel’s past shows up, telling Rachel they should work together because they’re on the same side, but Rachel doesn’t see eye to eye with her on this.

Eventually, the hunt picks up speed, snowballing to a dramatic and action-filled resolution.

The writing was good, and while I’m generally not a fan of continued inner monologues from characters to tell us how they’re feeling, I gave it some leeway this time for Rachel and Eric, as they’re going through a tough time. The relationships between the characters was quite good, and while there is violence, it is crucial to the story and not overly gruesome except for the autopsy scene with the dead (and burned) teacher. I recommend you not skip that unless it’s far too much for you. LGBTQ representation: Serrano’s female partner Tally is married to another woman, and they have kids.

There were a couple of points that could probably have been trimmed just a hair, and the actual scheme Bennett was running seemed to be a tad overly complicated, but overall, it’s quite a good read.

A solid four out of five stars.

Thanks to Thomas & Mercer and NetGalley for the review copy.