Title: The Last Breath by Kimberly Belle
Publisher: Harlequin MIRA
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery, Romance
Length: 384 pages
Book Rating: B+
Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley
From a remarkable new voice in suspenseful women’s fiction comes an emotionally searing drama about a woman who risks her life to discover the devastating truth about her family…
Humanitarian aid worker Gia Andrews chases disasters around the globe for a living. It’s the perfect lifestyle to keep her far away from her own personal ground zero. Sixteen years ago, Gia’s father was imprisoned for brutally killing her stepmother. Now he’s come home to die of cancer, and she’s responsible for his care—and coming to terms with his guilt.
Gia reluctantly resumes the role of daughter to the town’s most infamous murderer, a part complete with protesters on the lawn and death threats that are turning tragedy into front-page news. Returning to life in small-town Tennessee involves rebuilding relationships that distance and turmoil have strained, though finding an emotional anchor in the attractive hometown bartender is certainly helping Gia cope.
As the past unravels before her, Gia will find herself torn between the stories that her family, their friends and neighbors, and even her long-departed stepmother have believed to be real all these years. But in the end, the truth—and all the lies that came before—may have deadlier consequences than she could have ever anticipated….
The Last Breath is a very intriguing mystery and Kimberly Belle does an outstanding job keeping readers guessing whodunit right up until the novel’s conclusion. The cast of characters is well-developed with realistic flaws, but what really drives the story is the clever plot. A sizzling hot romance, long held secrets and complicated family relationships are secondary story arcs but they provide a fascinating backdrop to learning the truth about who killed Ella Mae Andrews.
Gia Andrews has not seen her father Ray since he was convicted of killing Ella Mae sixteen years ago. But when Ray is diagnosed with terminal cancer and released from prison to await a new trial, she returns to her small hometown to care for him. With her brother, sister and uncle avoiding her, Gia tries to set aside her ambivalence about her father’s guilt and comfort him in his last days. When new information about Ella Mae surfaces, Gia uncovers compelling evidence that her father’s claim of innocence might, in fact, be true.
The Last Breath is written from two very distinct points of view. Gia’s first person narration details the unfolding events in the present while third person narration from Ella Mae’s perspective reveals the events leading up to her death. Ella Mae’s last months are a tangled web of lies and deceit that have remained hidden since her death and Gia’s search for answers uncovers Ella Mae’s secrets. This newly discovered information leads to a reconciliation between Ray and his estranged children but will a shocking revelation jeopardize their tenuous bond?
The only bright spot in Gia’s homecoming is her surprising romance with bar/restaurant owner Jake Foster. Jake is not only helpful in her investigation, but his nightly visits to her family home lift her spirits and give her something to look forward to each day. Their relationship coasts cheerfully along until their conflicting plans for the future and a surprising disclosure threaten their happiness.
From the dramatic opening scene until the very last page, The Last Breath is a riveting mystery that is impossible to put down. Kimberly Belle brings this spellbinding tale of love gone horribly wrong vividly to life. A series of twists and turns carefully conceals the murderer’s identity until the novel’s incredibly dramatic conclusion.
A very smart and cunning debut novel that I highly recommend to readers of crime fiction.