What Hurts the Most by Willow Rose is the first novel in a “7th Street Crew” series. The Crew is a set of characters from the past which has come together in the present to solve a mystery involving one or more of them. Early on we meet Blake Mills, an appealing free-lance artist, a bit of a rogue and a bit stupid. Doing whatever one wants as one bounces carelessly through life is appealing to a reader such as myself but having a girlfriend who is married to a general, a power in the local community with hints of connections to a dark force is stupid. Something will go wrong and that central thing forms the theme of this novel. Blake is arrested early in the novel for a crime that we readers suspect he probably did not commit. It might be a revenge thing and a frame constructed by the evil general.
Next, in our setup, we meet Mary. She is a successful journalist but possibly pushes boundaries too much in terms of verification of sources. Shades of Fake News. Punishment is termination of employment. She will go back to Cocoa Beach, Florida at the invitation of her father. Her brother, Blake has been arrested for murder. Maybe her journalistic investigative skills can uncover what really happened. Perhaps her financial condition just got better as she can stay with her father. If only she didn’t hate her stepmother, Laura, so much. Laura helpfully returns the hatred in full measure. Good times for Mary’s Dad. And where is Mary’s biological mother? We quickly find out that she is dead but the cause of her death is another mystery. A single mother with a son, Salter, Mary is concerned about financial stability once her severance package is exhausted. Cocoa Beach is where the “crew” will be reunited.
On to Liz. Watch out for Liz. It seems there is something pathological about her. One clue is the way she and her “posse” threaten to physically emasculate a male pickup in a bar. Forcing him to drink Drano was an added painful touch, one not agreed to by every gang member who followed Liz. Does the fact that Liz is a combat veteran still serving in the Army cause her viciousness? Or is it genetics?
There is a backstory of Penelope, Peter, and a couple of kids. This story involves spousal abuse and a strange medical condition. Does one (spousal abuse) cause the other (medical condition)? Add this mystery to the Blake Mills murder mystery.
Mary reunites with her gang, the 7th Street Crew. There is Sandra, her best friend. There is Chloe, a computer hacker. Computer hackers are an annoying necessity in mystery novels. Startling revelations without much evidentiary base have to come from somewhere. And there is a most important character, Mary’s ex-husband and Salter’s Dad, Joey. He appears in a low-key help mode. He doesn’t want to push any reconciliation with Mary, a goal much desired by Salter. It is good that Joey is there with a place to stay for Mary when Laura, the evil stepmother throws Mary out of her father’s house.
And that is the setup for the novel. Nothing more needs to be said at the risk of injecting spoilers. The following line, not a spoiler, is my pick for my favorite line of the novel.
“Am I pretty?” (recurs many times in the novel so I won’t cite a location).
Willow Rose is a prolific author; I would get exhausted (and probably confused) just trying to count the numbers of books, short stories, novels in a series, and boxed sets that she has published. I just accept her figures in the “About the Author” section that there are more than 50 novels to her credit. She writes Mystery, Paranormal, Romance, Suspense, Horror, Supernatural thrillers, and Fantasy. Good enough. I will continue to just be a selfish reader and enjoy her works as I discover them.
Published in 2013, the novel has 95 chapters. Each chapter has a title that is a combination of a month and year. Chapters range from February 1977 to October 2015 with stops in 1978, 1979, 1984, 1986, and 1992. Months in each of the years vary. This is not a minor point and readers should pay attention. Characters may change names due to either marriage or attempts at deception. I found this to be a feature of Willow Rose novels. It gives her the opportunity to weave backstories with present action, something I believe she does skillfully.
The novel moves fast and, as mentioned, crosses several timelines. It is good but all the Willow Rose novels I have read are good. She is one of my “Go To’ authors for a guaranteed good read. And, so far, her endings have surprised me every time. It should not be surprising that I gave this novel five Amazon stars. At 454 pages for USD 0.99, this is a good deal. This novel takes up to 92% of the 454 pages; the rest is an excerpt from what follows next. After all, this is Book One of the series.