New First Novel from A Writer to Watch

“If I was gonna kill someone, I’d probably read everything I could find on forensics,” says Ben, Sheriff Niko Quintano’s deputy, and that is so very true, not only about psychopathic serial killers but about crime writers worth their salt.

Crime writers need to read everything they can find about forensics, and it’s evident Sue Coletta has. Marred is the first published novel by Sue Coletta, a writer to watch. Sue Coletta includes lessons in forensics in every novel. She also includes keen insights on the failure of human communication gleaned from closely observing human interactions.

Sage Quintano, Niko’s wife and chief protagonist, is not only a best-selling crime writer but Sage is also a crime victim. Sage was brutally raped and nearly killed when Niko and Sage lived in Boston. Niko had arrived home in time to save Sage’s life but not the life of their unborn child. Even after moving from Boston to New Hampshire, Sage carries the scars of the killer’s intrusion on her body and in her mind. Niko thought taking a job as sheriff in a rural area of another state would keep Sage safe and help her to heal. But it seems the killer has followed Sage and Niko and now holds Sage’s twin sister hostage.

Sage’s fatal flaw is the unrelenting shame she feels from allowing herself to be raped. To save her own life—and the life of the fetus growing within her—she complied with the rapist’s demands. She should have fought. She should have screamed. But she didn’t. Sage’s shame prevents her from telling Niko the truth and keeps her from having a sexual assault examination performed that might have identified the killer through DNA; destroys the relationship she once had with her twin sister, Chloe; nearly ruins her marriage; and causes her to drive away her literary agent at a time she needs Jess’ help most. Shame and fear make Sage vulnerable. Vulnerable people tend to compound mistakes.

Niko’s fatal flaw is his failure to protect his wife. He has other shortcomings, too, and his failure to communicate—as does Sage’s failure to communicate—only compounds the situation. Niko doesn’t listen to others the way a good cop should. He seems insensitive to the feelings of others. He refuses to understand the needs of others and thinks only of himself. He needs to change if he wants to save his wife, save his job, and keep his marriage. But can he?

When they were first married, Niko and Sage made a deal. Only one of them would come unglued at the same time. Of course, that didn’t apply when both were under attack and neither could think straight. Niko and Sage both come unglued and, if the serial killer doesn’t kill them first, stress will.

Frankie Capanelli is Niko’s partner. By right of seniority, Frankie should be chief deputy and Niko’s choice to succeed him as sheriff. But Frankie is a bit too informal and unconventional in both her dress and demeanor for Niko’s tastes, and Niko decides to groom Ben to become the next sheriff instead. Ben is the perfect candidate from a male chauvinistic perspective: he wears the uniform correctly, has former military experience, follows orders, and is polite and respectful. But is Ben really what he seems?

Marred is a roller-coaster thrill ride that alternates points of view between Sages’ first person and Niko and Frankie’s third person. Human beings make mistakes, and sometimes they hurt the people they love most. Sage, Niko, Frankie, and Chloe feel hurt, so they hurt others in return.

Marred leaves open the possibility of a sequel. I can’t wait to read what happens next.

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