Title: Making Angels: A Stella Fargo Mystery – Book 2
Author: M.J. Holt
Genre: Mystery / Thriller
In this second book, Stella Fargo travels to Peninsula County to investigate the disappearance of Hannah Pickett, the daughter of Stella’s friend and business partner, John, and to retrieve Hannah’s belongings. Although expecting the worst, Stella and the community are unprepared for the scale and horror of what they uncover.
The reader is taken straight into this second outing for Stella, the novel opening as she arrives in the tiny, rural county of Peninsula on a Sunday in March.
Instantly, there is a creeping feeling of unease heightened by Stella’s brisk yet impassive tone as she reports with a practically forensic level of detail what she discovers during her first hours in the town.
Aside from the last few pages, the novel takes place in a two-week period and each chapter corresponds to a weekday. It’s a good structural tactic, giving the reader a concentrated framework as the story develops.
Throughout, the prose is literal, heavy with observational minutiae, and dialogue-rich. Overall, it complements Stella’s pragmatism and lends a sense of unnerving immediacy to the narrative action—also a disquieting accompaniment to the darkly atmospheric setting.
However, in the first half of the novel, the writing has a tendency to be occasionally too screen-writerly, and some conversations are a touch involved and lacking in individuality.
Nonetheless, as the plot unfolds with a series of gruesomely awful discoveries, this slightly stylized, detached approach works well, taking any gratuitous edge away from the horrendous happenings and keeping the focus sharp and the pace fast.
The center of the Peninsula County community is Exie Havelock, an indomitable woman of indeterminate age, whose large, extended family surrounds her. Exie is efficient, gritty, and tough. The relationship that evolves between her and Stella is immediately comfortable despite the circumstances.
In their early scenes, Stella gives the impression of being quite passive and swept along by the narrative, whereas Exie seems to direct from within it. Toward the end, the dynamic reverses, and Stella appears to have absorbed a large part of Exie’s quiet, unbending strength.
Among Exie’s offspring are Keenie, her daughter, and Sally, her granddaughter, and they are heavily featured. The areas involving Keenie’s harrowing psychological condition and squalid living situation are as compelling as they are appalling.
Sally, a young teenager, has been the victim of sexual assault. These distressing and complex issues are sensitively, yet realistically, handled, but it understandably doesn’t make for light reading.
Stella is a complicated figure, resonating with objective hardness, yet intensely brooding and introspective. She compartmentalizes her emotional vulnerability and takes a near-unimaginable amount of physical and mental trauma.
Her relationship with her husband, Egan, is interesting. The reader glimpses a softer side to her during their exchanges but cannot help feeling something regarding his reliability and authenticity. Whether by accident or design, their chemistry seemed oddly lacking.
The connection she has with John Pickett is less ambiguous, full of heartfelt affection, genuine respect, and unspoken emotion. It’s powerfully apparent that Holt has poured her heart and soul into the creation of Stella yet, at times, she appears more of a concept than a person.
From a straightforward beginning, the plot branches in several directions, even back into Stella’s recent past to pile on twist after twist and horror after horror. The scenes in the abandoned Cottonwood Inn are nastily graphic and sickeningly visceral, and to paraphrase Stella, it’s a “horror show.”
Making Angels is a coldly gripping and analytical thriller that truly plumbs the depths of human depravity. For fans of the unconventional and intriguing Stella Fargo, this tremendously twisty, acutely disturbing mystery will not disappoint.
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