Meg Gardiner’s second novel in the Evan Delaney mystery series shows the same assuredness of storytelling that won me over in “China Lake” but ends up being a far more satisfying and complete reading experience.
Several years ago, Evan’s boyfriend, Jesse, was paralyzed in a hit and run incident. Jesse’s good friend was killed and all the evidence pointed toward it being a deliberate hit and run incident, with the car’s driver, Franklin Brand, going on the run. Now, Brand is back in town, but for what purpose?
As Evan follows Brand to make sure he doesn’t leave town, she’s slowly drawn into a web involving the incident and who the real target of the incident was. As Evan uncovers the truth of what happened and why, her own life becomes threatened and the discoveries she makes could fundamentally alter her life and her relationship with Jesse.
I came to the Evan Delaney series after reading Gardiner’s “The Dirty Secrets Club” and being impressed by it. Hungry for more, I picked up “China Lake” and while there were snippets of what I liked from “Secrets” in there, it still felt like a first novel. With “Mission Canyon,” the trappings of a first novel are gone and Gardiner settles in with a satisfying, page-turning mystery thriller that sets everything up well and then delivers a nicely done payoff in the end. I want to say this story is a bit more personal for Evan, but that would be doing a disservice to “China Lake” since it was a story about her protecting her nephew in peril from an evil religious cult. The big difference is that it feels like Gardiner doesn’t have as big an axe to grind here with the antagonists and they come off as far more effective and threatening that way. They’re not quite the evil, moustache twirling kind of villains that we got in “China Lake” and the book is a lot stronger for that.
Also, having had a novel to get to know Evan, the book is more successful as we see and hear Evan’s relentless belief in those she cares about and her dogged determination to defend them. It makes one of the novel’s turning points and twists a bit more shocking when you come to it. It also helps to make Evan grow as a character and not just be a stock, plucky female private investigator.
All in all, “Mission Canyon” is a far more complete and satisfying novel than its predecesor. I wonder if I’d read it first if I’d regard it as highly as I do “Dirty Secrets Club.” After all, part of the fun of a novel author is the joy of discovering their tricks and storytelling technique in the first novel you’re exposed to.