Fraud investigator Julia Jackson is back in action, and her next assignment throws her straight into the crosshairs of a bevy of desperate people…and one man who will do anything to keep his secret safe. Late one night, a car burns on a lonely rural road, and the discovery of a body—charred beyond recognition—in the driver’s seat sets in motion a series of deadly events. And when the wife of the supposedly deceased driver demands her husband’s million-dollar life insurance policy payout before the autopsy can be completed, fraud investigators Julia Jackson and Mark Vincent must determine exactly how the victim died and at whose hands. As Julia and Vincent interview witnesses and tangle with a host of angry suspects, another man is working behind the scenes to sever his mysterious connection to the body by any means necessary. Soon Julia and Vincent realize they are not dealing with an average death benefits scam, but with a potential serial killer instead.
(From the Amazon description)
The real test of a series is not the first book, but the second. The first book is an appetizer; the second leads us to the main course. I have three questions in mind when I start a sequel:
- Does the theme of the series work for more than one book? (Insurance fraud leading to murder, in this case.)
- Do the continuing story arcs make sense and hint at events yet to come?
- Will the characters we got to know in book one develop in ways that keep us interested?
I’m happy to report that Death Benefits, book 2 in the Southern Fraud series, passes all those tests with flying colors. Julia Jackson is just as smart and fun to read as she was in Absolute Liability. With Mark Vincent as her permanent partner, she’s back at work keeping middle Georgia safe from insurance defrauders.
Somehow though, when Julia and Vincent are involved, insurance fraud always leads to something… more. Something like murder. But who was murdered? The original holder of the life insurance policy? An accomplice in the death benefits scam? Perhaps even someone completely unattached to the case in any way? There were as many possible victims as there were villains, and it was fun to mix and match them as I read through the book. “Maybe X character killed Y character… in the study with the revolver.”
Yes, the Southern Fraud books are thrillers, but they are FUN thrillers. They inspire a kind of playful reading you wouldn’t use when reading say, the latest Dean Koontz novel. Jennifer Becton manages to handle murder with a light, humorous twist that is truly amazing.
This tone is particularly remarkable considering the insight she gives readers into the mind of the killer. In each of the Southern Fraud books so far, she has sprinkled in chapters from the killer’s perspective. The criminal in Death Benefits has a few loose screws, so the view from his eyes was chilling. Those chapters are just the right amount of seasoning to remind the reader that the story is a thriller, and a murder is involved.
But equally important in a series is the character arc. In Absolute Liability we learned a little of Julia’s family background and how that played a part in her becoming a law enforcement officer. That comes out a little more strongly in Death Benefits, as she continues to search for the man who raped her sister.
Her relationship with Mark Vincent is filled with the realistic tension of two people who are attracted together, who’ve come to a mutual, unspoken agreement not to pursue that attraction for the moment. They work well together, yes, but it’s the few times we see them off the clock that really shine. Becton is allowing their relationship to build at a natural pace, rather than rushing them directly into a romance neither of them is ready for.
I thoroughly enjoyed Death Benefits. If I’d had the time available, I would have read through it in one sitting. Alas, little things like work and sleep got in the way of great fiction. Perhaps when At Fault (Southern Fraud, book 3) comes out, I’ll just take a day off to read it.
Disclaimer, and disclaimer of the disclaimer: I received an ARC of this book from the author. However, I wanted to read it on my iPad and didn’t know how to get the ARC into the Kindle app, so I also bought a copy of the book…. not to mention I bought a copy for my mom, who is a huge fan of these novels.
Jennifer has graciously offered a paperback copy of EITHER Death Benefits OR Absolute Liability to one lucky reader.
1) Follow Jennifer’s blog.
2) Follow Jennifer on Twitter.
3) Follow Jennifer on Facebook.
4) Share a link to the giveaway on Facebook.
5) Tweet (up to once daily) about the giveaway.
BE SURE to reply to this post for EACH entry.
Giveaway is open to residents of the US and Canada until April 5 at 11:59 PDT. Winner will be chosen randomly and announced in a separate post.
Good luck, everyone.