Reviewed by: BigAl
Approximate word count: 75-80,000 words
Kindle US: YES UK: YES Nook: YES Smashwords: YES Paper: NO
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N.C. Hyzy is a pseudonym for Julie Hyzy. A Chicago native, Hyzy has three mystery series (written as Julie Hyzy) and several short story collections, including one science fiction collection as S.F. Hyzy. State of the Onion, the debut installment of her White House Chef series, was the winner of several awards, among them the 2009 Barry Award for Best Paperback Original. For more, visit her website.
Private investigator Riley Drake does background checks for clients of an upscale (make that extremely upscale) dating service, as well as taking on her own clients. In this first installment of a new series, Riley is pushed into trying to identify the killer of billionaire John Stratton’s wife, or at least clear Stratton of wrongdoing.
It seems to me that the main character in a series has to be likeable, so readers will come back for future books. In a thriller or mystery series, the lead character is usually competent at their job – really beyond competent, sometimes almost too good. What makes them relatable are their flaws; how they react in those real life situations where they aren’t perfect or show a little nervousness.
Riley Drake can take care of herself – that’s made clear by the end of the first chapter – but she does have a few chinks in her armor that make her human. When dealing with her ex-husband and his new girlfriend, we find she’s not as cold as she’d like us to believe. She has an empathetic side, which shows in her dealings with a character who has a drug problem and another with offbeat sexual tastes. She’s prone to slipping up just enough to require a quick trip to the hospital, but is likely to check herself out before her doctor thinks she’s ready. It all adds up to a quirky, likeable character.
You can’t have a mystery without a plot, either, and Playing With Matches has a good one. If you’ve read many mysteries, you’ll know most are built around a selection from some basic building blocks, with each story’s uniqueness coming from setting and characters. Hyzy has built a solid foundation for her series with Riley Drake and her unique profession, and an interesting cast of secondary characters. Playing With Matches was a great introduction to Riley. I’m eager to read the next in the series.
There were a small number of typos and proofreading errors.
Rating: **** Four stars