"She had no eyes!"
The body of a young girl drifts over a reef where Jake Savage is photographing lionfish, beautiful brown-striped creatures with feathery pectoral fins that could almost make one forget their venomous spines.
For an instant, Jake thinks she might be watching him, but she has no snorkel or mask. She isn't wearing a swimsuit, but rather, is clad in only a shirt and panties. And she can't have looked at him because she has no eyes.
What has this child done to die so young - to be forgotten and left to drift until consumed by the creatures of the sea?
A voice whispers to let her go, but he can't leave her to the whim of the wind and tide...a simple decision with deadly consequences.
"A sublimely nuanced and enthralling murder mystery." - Kirkus Reviews
Twenty-seven-year-old Jake Savage, scuba diving off Key West, spots a teenage girl’s body floating in the water. While the police declare her death an accident, Jake suspects murder as he recalls signs of a potential assault. But it’s the authorities’ apparent indifference that really galls him; the situation is not unlike the still unsolved homicide of his birth mother, Gretchen Favor. Although Jake’s adoptive parents took him in when he was only 4 years old, he knows full well how Gretchen died and has had no luck in getting police to reopen her case. Certain that Jake will poke around for information about the girl in the water, his adoptive mother, Ethel (called “Ethy”), assigns her caretaker, Tess Simpson, to keep an eye on her son and make sure he’s okay. Jake begins by searching for the unknown victim’s name, but the key to finding that may lie with another young girl who’s missing. Further digging unearths a crime that implicates several affluent people, each of whom has the wherewithal to threaten Jake (or send someone else to do their dirty work). Even Detective Trent Murphy, who asks for Jake’s help in identifying the unnamed girl, warns him to call off his personal investigation before he and Tess are hurt—or worse. As the two inch closer to a possible killer, they realize they’re not the only ones in danger and resolve to see the investigation through to the end. As the narrative progresses, other absorbing mysteries gradually emerge: Tess may be running from a troubled past, and Jake stumbles onto email correspondence between Gretchen and someone named James, who may be the biological father Jake has never known.
Light’s understated whodunit thrives on its richly drawn atmosphere: Several individuals Jake questions are clearly too scared to divulge anything, and one character’s name alone registers as menacing well before they ever make an appearance. The story likewise boasts a notable sense of realism throughout. Relationships are decidedly complex; multiple characters, not just Murphy, tell Jake to give up on his snooping for his own safety and the well-being of others. Ethy isn’t the most lovable mother, quite the opposite of her late husband, Maurice, who doted on Jake. And while there seems to be a mutual attraction between Jake and Tess, romance exists as merely a possibility, not an instantaneous development. Even the investigation is believable, as ostensibly rock-solid evidence doesn’t necessarily lead anywhere. The author’s focus on the main mystery, which starts from the opening scene, stokes a consistently swift pace. He crafts detailed environments, including the vividly drawn coastal setting; in one memorable, nail-biting sequence, “...the boat was encased in the dark shadow of a looming storm while lightning flashed between the lowering clouds. A torrent of rain pounded the ferry from all sides.” The ending couples a satisfying payoff with the hint of a sequel.
by publishers weekly
This satisfying series starter from Light (author of the Shep Harrington Smalltown Mysteries series) tackles sex trafficking and what it takes to expose the powerful with a mystery ripped from the headlines about the likes of Jeffrey Epstein. Jake Savage grew up pained by injustice, having found his mother murdered when he was four years old by a killer who never was caught. Perhaps that’s why, at 27, he can’t let injustice go, even when he’s being warned away—and at risk of exposing the wealthy and powerful. One day a shadow casts over Jake while he scuba dives as a research volunteer to photograph lionfish in the Gulf waters off Key west. Above, he sees a young girl’s body drifting over the reef, face down, her hair fanned out. Now, in the first book in a new series, Jake turns amateur sleuth, seeking to identify the girl and see that her killer does not go unpunished.
In addition to the natural tension of the mystery, Light wrings suspense from society’s insistence that some stones should go unturned. “What good is the truth going to do you or anyone else if the police don’t have the balls to do anything about it?” asks Jake’s adopted mother, Ethel, chillingly, while the pointedly unmotivated Sergeant Detective Trent Murphy eventually warns Jake to not investigate, despite tantalizing clues like caviar in the victim’s stomach. Engaging friction between Jake and a surprise investigation partner keeps the pages turning, after Ethel insists that Tess, her caregiver, accompany him. The pair doesn’t see eye to eye, but they make key breakthroughs and even, despite Tess’s engagement, exhibit signs of attraction certain to be explored in future books.
The unlikely duo faces grave danger as they trace evidence to Giles Horan, a wealthy entertainer of the rich and famous, whose extravagant lifestyle has been set up to cast away the people it uses–the “throwaways” of the outraged title. The well-crafted plot turns on missing girls, a stolen laptop, a welcome sense of outrage, and a first-time detective with a rousing dedication to seeing that justice is served, at whatever cost. Lovers of sharply told mysteries that target injustice will want more.
Takeaway: First-time sleuth takes on a powerful sex trafficking conspiracy.
Comparable Titles: L.A. Dobbs’s Telling Lies, Steven James’s Broker of Lies.
Design and typography: A
Marketing copy: A
MIDWEST BOOK REVIEW
Jake Savage wasn't thinking of murder when he set out to photograph the gorgeous but deadly lionfish underwater. And yet, a young girl's body drifts into his line of sight, forcing him to move from the beauty of an invasive species in the Florida Gulf to the deadly possibilities of murder.
Jake's first instinct is to pass on the unexpected opportunity to investigate another murder. He's in the middle of an alternate world when another case literally drifts by. But, some things in life, you simply can't ignore:
"...her body drifted past me and the sun returned. I didn’t want to go to her, to see what I knew were the tortured remains of a once-living human being. I had seen ravaged bodies up close and dreaded the idea of seeing hers. I wanted her to leave. I wanted her to disappear. If I just waited a few minutes, she would be out of my sight, a speck in the vast Gulf waters. A voice pleaded with me to let her go, but despite being repulsed by the mutilation of her face, I simply couldn’t leave her to the whims of the wind and tide. She deserved better."
And so Jake moves his readers from an underwater photo shoot and concern about ecosystem invasion to a different kind of incursion on heart and soul which pulls him into a new pursuit of the truth.
Jake's search for answers leads him into unexpected new territory, including race relations issues that arise from even a man of god who confronts him when he searches for truth on the doorstep of faith: "Couple of white girls get in a bind, and the two of you come here for help. When black and brown girls go missing, no one thinks twice about them. I don’t wish those girls any harm, but what happens to them isn’t my problem.” The harsh words from a supposed man of the cloth stunned me.
As the story evolves, it turns out that Jake has come to Key West in pursuit of more than one ideal. His dream job of tracking fish populations and playing with software has already been challenged by a stroke suffered by his foster mother Ethy, who raised him, but always reminded him he wasn't really hers.
Charged with caring for Ethy, Tess Simpson also proves an unexpected adjunct to Jake's life as he juggles his obligations, a new home, and possibilities in murder and young runaways that bring social issues to his doorstep: “What? You thought she’d see you as heroes coming to save her? You see a girl who ran away from home who can be saved with hugs and sweet words. Alicia didn’t just run away. She was discarded. People like you saw her on the street and looked the other way.”
Elliott D. Light builds a compelling story based on these issues as much as the murder scenario and Jake's own life challenges. Light's ability to juxtapose the lives of disparate individuals who become part of the complex puzzle of Megan's death and Alicia's disappearance brings many confrontations to the table as social issues and racial concerns entwine with life-and-death situations.
All these elements make Throwaways more than just another whodunit, but a social probe that places Jake in the center of a maelstrom of controversy, leading him into a personal confrontation with the murders in his own past history.
Libraries and readers seeking a multifaceted story that moves both outwards to embrace a community and internally to unravel the puzzles affecting Jake's past and present will find Throwaways thoroughly absorbing. It's powered by realistic characters whose pursuit of truths against all odds lead them in unexpected directions that readers won't see coming.
a taut thriller with a likable, laidback hero!
"This is an engaging whodunit, made all the more appealing because the main character gets sucked into a web of mystery without any warning, and without having any prior intention of doing so. Jake Savage is photographing fish in the Florida Keys when the corpse of a teenage girl comes floating by. He does the right thing: the authorities are notified and the body is salvaged, but his involvement doesn’t end there. His innate curiosity has been piqued, and it won’t let him rest. Thus begins a relentless quest on his part to find out how and why she was left for dead floating in the Gulf. His search pits him against some morally reprehensible scumbags and uber-wealthy men involved in human trafficking and murder. Set against the backdrop of Key West, this book is a joy to read, not only because of its suspenseful story, but because of its likable, laidback hero, the characters he interacts with, and the smart dialogue that enlivens the action."