Shadow in the Smoke

The McLaren Mysteries, Book 3
Narrated by: Steve Hart
Series: The McLaren Mysteries, Book 3
Length: 8 hrs and 32 mins
4.0 out of 5 stars (4 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Janet Ennis tragically died five years ago in what the police labeled an accidental fire. But Janet’s mother, Nora, believes it to be murder and arson. And she’s hoping ex-cop Michael McLaren can prove it quickly, for she’s losing her memory to dementia.  

As McLaren pokes through the case details, he becomes emotionally involved with the dead woman. Yet, Janet isn’t the only person who threatens his mental well-being. A series of arsons on his own property hint that he’s upset someone connected with this case.

Motives for Janet’s murder rise like the smoky tendrils of a fire. And motive aside, the murder scene seems a bit too pat: a drought-stricken landscape eager to lap up flames and a conveniently locked door barring Janet’s escape.

Will McLaren solve the case while Nora can still comprehend the resolution, or will Harvester’s plans see McLaren’s career go up in smoke?

©2015 Jo A. Hiestand (P)2019 Jo A. Hiestand

What listeners say about Shadow in the Smoke

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Fun! Works as a stand-alone mystery.

Note: Even though this is Book 3 in the series, it works just fine as a stand alone novel. Former policeman Michael McLaren was fun to follow around for a spell. He’s a private detective now and his knowledge of criminal activity & police procedures in general comes in very useful for this latest case. Initially, he’s reluctant to take it on. Janet died in a fire 5 years ago. The case has been closed with no lingering questions. Yet her mother Nora insists there are things that don’t make sense. There’s more to this story. Nora feels she’s been ignored by the police and she’s willing to reach out to the private sector to get her answers. McLaren starts digging into Janet’s life. She was a musician complete with a successful band as well as an owner and operator of catering business. So many partners that could potentially be suspects. McLaren, however, is still skeptical that it was anything more than an accidental death by smoke inhalation. Then someone gets sloppy or spooked as McLaren starts asking revealing questions. Even though the center of this story works fine on it’s own, I do wonder about McLaren’s past. He’s got a new girlfriend in his life (Dena) and also there’s that beef with his old boss (Harvester). I want to know what brought him and Dena together. I’m also curious about the gritty details of him leaving the police force & what role his old boss played in that. I expect I will be exploring previous books in the series. The story ramps up as someone gets a fire bug up their backside. Yes, setting small fires will get you noticed, but not for good reasons. McLaren puts the pressure on, digging even more into Janet’s life, like her finances. I liked how one clue after another was revealed. However, the end did feel rushed. All of a sudden, we have this big reveal and the bad guy gives an abrupt confession. There’s a few other small things that I needed just a little more to buy into, like Nora gifting a large item to McLaren. Also, I felt there were some few lingering questions left unanswered. However, over all, it was a fun entertaining tale. 4/5 stars. The Narration: Steve Hart was good. He had a great voice for McLaren and his female character voices sounded feminine. I liked his cranky old man voice for Janet’s dad. Sometimes, his character voices blurred a bit making it tricky to keep track of which character was talking. This often happened for McLaren and Harvester. Sometimes Hart’s voice sounded too much like a news report instead of someone invested in the story. The pacing was good and there were no tech issues with the recording. 4/5 stars. I received this audiobook as part of my participation in a blog tour with Audiobookworm Promotions. The tour is being sponsored by Jo A. Hiestand. The gifting of this audiobook did not affect my opinion of it.

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Good story, but think I'd prefer to read it

3.5/5 stars (rounded up to 4) For me, this was a slow-burn story with a main character - Michael McLaren - who, despite being an ex-cop seemed rather reluctant in his pursuance of this case, constantly telling everyone he didn't have a licence to investigate and was merely working on behalf of the victim's mother. His conversations with Jamie bore testament to this reluctance and his friend seemed to do much of the brain-work when it came to ruling suspects in or out. McLaren second-guessed himself a lot, to the point of wondering if he'd been right to take on the case after all. At one point, even Nora Ennis - the victim's mother, dementia sufferer, and the person who hired him - was a suspect. Nora was convinced her daughter's death five years ago was not an accident, and her annual trips to the police station for updates suggested no-one took her claim seriously. Hiring McLaren was her last chance to find the truth before dementia stole her memory of Janet completely. To be honest, I did sometimes wonder if Nora had made the right decision in hiring him, as though it were McLaren or nothing. As the story progressed, McLaren developed an attachment to the dead woman, and became more determined to confirm whether her death was an accident or murder. His questioning of those closest to Janet revealed a never-ending stream of motives that required exploring, with many interesting twists. He was clearly getting closer to solving the mystery, and the arson attacks on his own home proved someone was riled by his investigations. This story is the third in the McLaren Mystery series, and I did feel that I was missing some pertinent facts, especially regarding his relationship with Harvester. Therein lies another story, for sure. The narration, for me, wasn't always clear, particularly when "Jamie" was talking to McLaren. I realise the narrator was probably simulating a phone conversation, but the result was scratchy, squeaky and often incomprehensible. I did have to backtrack several times, and even when concentrating I didn't always catch what was being said. Overall, I was surprised at how many reviewers reading the physical copy of the book found this to be a fast-paced story. For me it was a real slow-burn. Maybe that has something to do with an adaptation for audio, or the narrator's Australian accent, but fast-paced is not what I'd call it. Overall, the mystery surrounding Janet Ennis's death is intriguing as it unravels, its impact on McLaren is just as fascinating. I received this audiobook as part of my participation in a blog tour with Audiobookworm Promotions. The tour is being sponsored by Jo A. Hiestand. The gifting of this audiobook did not affect my opinion of it.

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Pull out your notebook and play detective

SHADOW IN THE SMOKE is the third book in The McLaren Mysteries by Jo A. Hiestand, and the first I’ve read, but it won’t be the last. It works perfectly well as a stand-alone book and I never felt lost or confused due to lack of backstory. The author gives readers enough to pique interest in learning more about ex-cop Michael McLaren, though. It seems there are juicy details to why he’s an ex-cop and not still in the force, and what’s the story with his girlfriend Dena? I’ll be adding the first two books to the ever-toppling TBR. What becomes clear from the get-go is that Jo Hiestand excels at characterization, and with the apt narration of Steve Hart, I was already loathing a character within minutes of listening. OH! His condescension and patronization! Hiestand uses just the right words to describe scenes and people and evoke very specific responses from the reader. For those who are reading with their ears, the huge cast of characters and how they are related to one another can be confusing. New characters continue to be added up until very near the end of the book, and it seems everyone has a motive to murder. I recommend pulling out a notebook and playing detective yourself to keep track of who’s who. SHADOW IN THE SMOKE is really a police procedural, and readers are right there beside McLaren as he gets information and puts the pieces together. It sometimes feels a bit too convenient that Michael has multiple connections at the police department who are willing to break the law in sharing classified information and documents. McLaren doesn’t hesitate to use it and even plays dirty with suspects as he tries to solve the case and protect himself as he becomes a target. The story is heavy on dialogue, but it has some action that will pull readers out of rumination mode and into danger, right along with McLaren. And beneath all the sleuthing, there is also a sub-plot threading its way through the book that shows the sadness and loneliness of dementia. Having had a parent suffer through it, I found these scenes accurately heartbreaking, and the respect and tenderness shown by McLaren in dealing with Nora brought another dimension to his already complex character. The story ties-up rather quickly, and admittedly, I was still scratching my head to figure out the convoluted known and unknown relationships between several characters. If I had the book in print, I would have probably pursued that so I could have it all straight -- especially because the final sentence only added more questions rather than providing a resolution to anything. Perhaps it tied up a loose thread, or perhaps it was a hint at things to come. Either way, I’m on board for more of Michael McLaren and this series. ABOUT THE NARRATION: The setting of SHADOW IN THE SMOKE is a little wiggly for this Texas girl; I think it’s set in England but I didn’t take the time to use the Google and look-up any of the towns mentioned to verify it. Narrator Steve Hart seems to have an Australian accent in portraying Michael McLaren, which is fine with me because it is a delightful accent, but I am not sure it was accurate for the character. Overall, his pacing is consistent, and it was easy to follow along listening to the audio at regular speed. The exception is that there aren’t appropriate pauses for segues to scene changes, which sometimes caused confusion. Even so, I wouldn’t hesitate to listen to him narrate another story. He performs both male and female voices well, uses a nice technique for when the dialogue occurred via telephone call, and his diction is clear – even with the multiple accents and unknown towns, I didn’t have any trouble understanding him in any character voice. Well done. Thank you to Audiobookworm promotions and the author for providing me an audio book code in exchange for my honest opinion – the only kind I give.

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Pay attention

I am rating this book at 3 1/2 to 4 stars. I think this Audiobook would of been better with a different narrator. Not that Steve Hart was bad, for me at times he was a bit hard to understand though. The story was kind of slow getting started and at times kind of stalled but when it was moving along it was a good story. It is definitely a who done it mystery. It sounds like a cut and dry case of accidental death and even the Police ruled it as such, but the more Michael McLaren looks into the case the more it looks like murder, and wow at the number of suspects he finds. The book starts out with Michael McLaren reluctantly meeting with Mrs. Ennis. She is positive her Daughter Janet was murdered 5 years. The police have ruled her death as accidental and refuse to reopen the case. Mrs. Ennis has dementia and wants nothing more than to prove her daughter's death was not accidental before her memory is gone. McLaren is her last resort. McLaren is an Ex-Cop and who is not a licensed private but detective. Along with his friend Jamie they start looking into the case. It does seem like everyone and their brother, even Mrs. Ennis become suspects at some point. The book left me guessing all the way to the end, at times the amount of suspects was a bit over whelming even trying to keep all the information straight. I did back tracks few times. This is also one of those books for me I had to just set with and pay full attention too, if other things were going on around me I would get a little lost. I was given this free review copy audiobook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

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  • 01-22-20

Confusing !!!

This would have been a good read, but I got seriously confused about which country this story was situated in. Although I recognised the towns and places mentioned the narrator often pronounced them incorrectly and with what sounded like a strong Aussie accent. Very confusing.