One Last Breath
by Laura Griffin, contemporary (2007)
Pocket, $6.99, ISBN 978-1-4165-3737-3


I don't know who that woman in that cool catsuit outfit on the cover of One Last Breath is. It's certainly not the heroine Francis "Feenie" Malone in Laura Griffin's absolutely fun debut because our former rich man's wife turned divorcée turned journalist is not the kind of person to jump over walls and all.

Feenie Malone graduated from being a buxom and perky cheerleader to society wife of wealthy John Garland. Okay, that sounds bad, especially when Feenie had straight A's in college. She is already feeling vaguely discontented about doing nothing in life that challenges her apart from organizing a charity fundraising event or two when she accidentally discovers that her husband is cheating on her. While she doesn't hesitate to file for divorce, her husband has enough connections to make sure that she doesn't get a penny from the divorce. Today, Feenie is broke. She's also trying to get some kind of scoop to make her editor notice her and give her more to write about than fluff pieces, obituaries, and the like.

Our hero Marco Juarez first met Feenie when he, as a cop, was called in to investigate a possibly mad woman with a gun and found instead Feenie using her then-husband's trophies for target practice. This was right after Feenie discovered that her husband was cheating on her. Two years later, Marco has quit the force. He's now a PI, but what he is really doing is to investigate the murder of his sister. His sister, you see, was a cop who disappeared along with her partner. The official conclusion was that Paloma Juarez had abandoned her daughter and ran off with her partner in a case of runaway love. Marco doesn't believe that his sister will abandon her own daughter. Also, he had a phone call from Paloma shortly before her disappearance. Too bad he wasn't paying attention to the call then, but he was sure that she had left some kind of clue then about the case she was working on.

He and Feenie meet again when she, upon discovering that her husband lied about losing the boat that she considers hers, stumbles upon Marco who is at that moment also tracking down his suspect... her ex-husband John. Marco realizes that Feenie may be his link to finding things about John, while Feenie realizes that she's on to what could be a scoop to boost her career when she discovers that John may be in something most unsavory indeed. These two more or less decide to cooperate in various ways, with love of course coming up when they least expect it to.

Despite the painful opening scenes where the author describes Paloma's final moments at the hands of her tormentors, One Last Breath is actually humorous romantic suspense. This one, however, is more like the old TV show Scarecrow And Mrs King rather than Stephanie Plum's increasingly canned capers, with a heroine who is definitely capable but out of her depths paired with a dashing mysterious stranger who is not telling her everything he knows about a case.

Feenie is a very nice heroine. She may not do the smartest things in this story, but that's because she's out of her depths and also because Marco doesn't give her the full picture of what is going on, so she understandably does not know who to trust at times. What I like about her is that she is definitely capable when it comes to her job and she is also clear-headed enough that, despite the fact that she is sleeping with Marco, she is definitely on to him when he tries to manipulate her. She is not gullible where Marco is concerned. I like Feenie. She's out of her depths rather than stupid or gullible here, which makes her one of those rare heroines who actually have a clue.

Marco on the other hand is a less interesting character to me because he's such a stereotype of the lone wolf vigilante that does not know how to trust the heroine until much later in the story. Were Feenie a more gullible heroine, this man will be utterly insufferable. It's a good thing therefore that Feenie actually brings out the best in him rather than to allow him to wallow in self-pity and angst. His romance with Feenie, however, is pure delight. Ms Griffin manages to strike a right balance of romance and suspense here. The romance is believable enough, mostly because the author takes time to flesh out the characters and let them talk to each other to allow me to discern that there is a convincing bond developing between those two.

The suspense has a few plot holes such as John taking Feenie on a business trip of his in the past for who knows what reason so that Feenie can recall an important clue about his naughty activities or why for some reason Marco can't find anything in two years but Feenie certainly can dig up a lot in her short time on the case (she is not that good), but on the whole the mystery is pretty solid. It is definitely not a tacked-on part of the story.

One Last Breath is certainly nearly a breathtaking debut and you can bet this won't be the last book I'll read by this author.

Rating: 88


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