Also by this author: Aftermath, Aftermath, Private Justice, Word of Honor, Trial by Fire, Line of Duty, Smoke Screen
Series: Newpointe 911 #2
Published by Zondervan on January 1, 1998
Genres: Fiction, Christian, Suspense
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A poisoned past. A bitter present. Is Celia a murderer … or a victim? Detective Stan Shepherd lies comatose in the hospital, a victim of arsenic poisoning. The Newpointe police have a suspect: Celia Shepherd, Stan’s wife. Celia is no stranger to such charges. When her first husband died of poisoning, a technicality scuttled the case against her and Celia got of scot-free. Now it looks like the same old story—only this time, the motive appears plain. An old flame has moved into town under circumstances bound to raise suspicion. And that’s just for starters. More evidence is gathering that can put Celia away for good. But attorney Jill Clark thinks the pieces of the puzzle fit together a bit too neatly. Either her client’s Christian faith is a sham or she’s the victim of a deadly frame-up—and the real killer is still afoot … Shadow of Doubt is book two in the Newpointe 911 series by award-winning novelist Terri Blackstock. Newpointe 911 offers taut, superbly crafted novels of faith, fear, and close-knit small-town relationships, seasoned with romance and tempered by insights into the nature of relationships, redemption, and the human heart. Look also for Private Justice, Line of Duty, Word of Honor, and Trial by Fire.
Terri Blackstock has been a banner name in Christian fiction for over twenty years. I’ve found some of her books riveting and some of her books lacking. Recently, I decided to go back to some of her older books that I’d never read and see how her stories and writing style had changed and progressed. I started with Newpointe 911, a five-book series published between 1998-2003, that focuses on a group of first responders, their families, and way more drama than you’d expect from a small town.
In Private Justice, we were introduced to the small town of Newpointe, Louisiana, and its emergency workers. In that book, Detective Stan Shepherd was the one who cracked the case and hunted down the killer. In Shadow of Doubt, he’s the one being targeted. Worse, his wife Celia is the prime suspect.
The police do have their reasons. Stan’s been poisoned with arsenic and Celia’s first husband was murdered by arsenic poisoning. Not only that, but Celia had been arrested for the murder before getting off on a technicality. She moved to Newpointe, where nobody knew her, fell in love with Stan, and started her life over.
As Stan clings to life, Celia desperately protests her innocence. Unfortunately, the facts keep lining up against her. It’s all circumstantial, but it’s quite compelling (almost too compelling, one might think). The drama over the false accusation is compelling, but the police work is bumbling at best. The mystery isn’t as compelling because we know it wasn’t Celia and Blackstock offers no great alternatives until the book’s end—which is when things really get wild.
Things come to a head when Celia tries to sneak into Stan’s room to see him. She’s caught. And *gasp* it’s discovered that someone put arsenic in Stan’s IV bag. Stan insists it wasn’t Celia. Celia insists it wasn’t her. But it’s not exactly a good look for the suspected murderer to visit the victim and then the victim almost die again.
Celia is her own worst enemy at every turn, withholding information, acting incriminatingly, refusing to cooperate with the investigation. The police are less-than-competent, jumping to conclusions and refusing to consider alternatives. (But you know, that part might be accurate.) It moves the plot along, but it’s an incredibly frustrating read. Blackstock makes it so obvious to the readers that when the characters don’t pick up on it, you have to assume they’re a bit dense.
The plot to uncover the real killer is absolutely bonkers non-sensical. I was willing to say that this book was just average and a product of its time until this twist. Spoilers ahead. Celia is imprisoned, but they think they have a sure-fire way of testing to see if she’s the real killer: let her go and either she’ll try to kill Stan again or the real killer will try to set her up for the murder. They can’t just release an alleged killer for no reason, so they arrange for Aunt Aggie, Celia’s aunt, to fake her death so that Celia can petition to attend the funeral. (Aggie has been an important background character in the series.) They’ll monitor Stan and catch whoever tries to kill him in the act.
Somehow this works. The real killer—Celia’s brother, jealous because Celia was always the favorite—attempts to kill Stan one more time, setting Celia up once again to take the fall. Except…why would he try to murder Stan again if his motive is simply sending Celia to prison? She’s already assumed guilty. It baffles the mind. It’s a low-budget soap opera twist and it’s just silly.
This one was probably my least favorite of the five Newpointe books. Most of them are just mediocre, but this one was actually bad.