The video game industry is one that is valued at billions of dollars and which remains on an upward trajectory. As such, competition is steep and aspirations high. Sounds like the perfect arena for intrigue, nefarious behavior, and just possibly murder. M. E. Browning launches her new suspenseful procedural series with Shadow Ridge, a novel set in this volatile industry where new advancements come with unforeseen risk.
Shadow Ridge introduces readers to Jo Wyatt, a detective in the Colorado area known as Echo Valley. Jo is a welcome addition to the canon of crime fiction protagonists: she’s fastidious, dedicated, and ambitious; but of course, she comes with the complex baggage needed for a character to be able to sustain a series of novels. It is her heart and inherent goodness that readers will first latch onto, making it impossible not to root for her as she faces challenges in both her personal and professional lives.
When the body of Tye Horton is found in his home, with the shotgun in his cold hands, all evidence points to suicide. However, once Jo speaks with his friend Quinn Kirkwood, something the young woman says convinces Jo that she might know more than she is saying. Jo and Quinn mix like oil and water, but it isn’t very long before Jo discovers that Quinn has been receiving threats via social media and email. When a pattern of deaths is established related to the beta-testing of a new video game, Jo is convinced that everything is connected and there is a larger conspiracy at play.
As a woman in the gaming field, Quinn is an underdog, constantly struggling for acceptance and respect. Despite their increasing numbers, females are still treated as “less than” by the powers-that-be who dominate the field. By creating a character like Quinn, Browning is able to comment on the stigma and restrictions gender play in this burgeoning industry. This echoes nicely with the discrimination that Jo Wyatt is facing with her career in law enforcement. Even though these are two very different woman, their shared struggles forge a bond and make them relatable to the vast majority of readers.
Shadow Ridge follows the pattern of most police procedurals. Readers are allowed behind the scenes on the investigation of a challenging case, allowed to witness how new discoveries lead to unexpected avenues of exploration, and follow this through until ultimately the truth is uncovered. The pacing here is spot-on with the perfect balance of investigative-related chapters and those that explore the personal lives of the characters. Ultimately, the resolution is satisfying with all the clues readers need present – just cleverly obscured. The ending will leave readers hopeful for more books featuring Jo Wyatt and the Echo Valley citizens.