Book Reviews | Black River and White Horse by Joss Sterling

Black River by Joss Sterling is a light, hard-boiled mystery with lots of action and suspense as well as a fun dash of humor that all come together into an enjoyable, fast-paced read.

What I Loved

Most of all, I adored the primary characters. Jessica Bridges is a fledgling PI who does temp work on the side. When we meet her, she is staying with a woman and her two children somewhat illegally. She has not declared her residence, insisting that Cory is a friend (even though they did not start the arrangement that way). I’m not familiar with the English law that makes this an issue, but it is referred to multiple times. She describes herself as recklessly impulsive, and this is where the fun begins. She has a penchant for getting herself into laugh out loud situations that are delightfully fun to read while building the suspense that makes the book hard to put down.

Her two sidekicks are DCI Leo George and psychologist Michael Harrison. They together lead the official investigation while helping Jess solve her case, which gets mixed into it. Leo is a straight-laced cop who does everything by the book and is highly respected within the police community. He loves gardening and has named a “pet” carp who lives in a small pond in his garden, Goldemort, showing us a lighter, funnier side to this policeman. He is an excellent foil for Jess, who is his opposite in so many ways.

Michael Harrison is a psychology professor at a local college and was Jess’s live-in boyfriend for five years. They have long since parted ways but remain good friends. Michael gives the reader insight into the inner workings of many characters’ minds throughout the story. All three perspectives work so well together to create an account that is fast-paced, full of action and suspense, and brings the reader a good dose of fun to offset the wickedness and evil that is being investigated.

I loved that the point of view used with Jess’s chapters are in first-person narration while Leo’s and Michael’s are in third person limited narration. I’ve seen this technique used once before, and I love how it provides multiple perspectives while avoiding the confusion that often comes with multiple narrators.

Three mysteries are going on at one time, and I loved how that keeps the pace speeding along. The puzzles are loosely connected but still managed to stay very distinct as the story progressed, never once creating the confusion that can come when you have potentially too much of a good thing going on in a story.

To Read or Not to Read

This incredible new series for people who enjoy a lighter hard-boiled mystery will grab on to and never look back.

Jess, Leo, and Michael are back in Book 2 of the Jess Bridges Mystery Series, White Horse, and they have new cases to solve, new crazy predicaments to get into, and new dangers to face.

What I Loved

White Horse picks up basically where Black River leaves off with just about a couple of months between the two stories. It can be a bit of a stretch for the imagination to believe all of these mysteries could happen in such a short amount of time. Still, I love the characters so much, and watching them in action is such a wonderful experience that I am more than willing to make my imagination stretch.

There are three mysteries again – one is Jess’s PI case, one is a murder that Leo is trying to solve, and the third is a suspicious death. This time, unlike in Black River, the three cases are intertwined, so Jess and Leo find themselves working together again. Three mysteries in one story may sound like a lot, but they are handled so expertly that I never get confused or lost in the plot. Instead, I just found that it made the pages turn faster and faster without a lull.

I also love that Jess Bridges reminds me so much of one of my favorite literary characters Stephanie Plum from the series by Janet Evanovich. Jess and Stephanie both are “strapped for cash and recklessly impulsive,” which is a large part of their charm. Both are very attractive to the opposite sex, and both are never sure where they stand in relationships. The most significant difference between the two characters is that Jess has a band of support characters that help ground her and keep her safe. In contrast, Stephanie has a madcap group of over the top support characters. Jess is a PI, and Stephanie is a bounty hunter, but both find themselves in dangerous situations due to their job. And they are both the most enjoyable female characters that I have had the opportunity to read.

I love that this time the group took on a cult. There is such an air of mystery to cult activities that added the extra layer of mystique to an already action-filled story. Of course, Jess’s plan involved going undercover into the cult, which creates many situations that are as laugh-out-loud funny as they are full of suspense.

To Read or Not to Read

If you love light, hard-boiled mysteries, you must pick up this new series by Joss Sterling.

About the Books

Black River

A thrilling new whodunnit series, fast-paced and funny, featuring a detective as sharp as his suits and a heroine who’s trouble.

The River Thames always gives up its dead…

There’s a killer picking off victims from the wild swimming spots on the upper reaches of the Thames. The case takes Detective Inspector Leo George into the path of Jess Bridges, a private investigator who lives life close to the edge.

Their enquiries lead them to author, Jago Jackson, whose book on secret wild swimming spots has turned him into a social media celebrity. Is Jago’s book the blueprint that the murderer is following? If so, does that make Jago a target or the killer himself? Either way, the duo find themselves swimming in some very dangerous waters …

White Horse

3000 years ago Iron Age people carved a White Horse on the Downs near Uffington Castle and now someone has dumped a body there. Laid out like a ceremonial killing, Detective Inspector Leo George isn’t convinced that the murder is what it appears.

He suspects the young female victim may have been a member of the Children of the White Horse, a secretive valley commune, but none of the cult members are talking. That is until he discovers his friend, Jess Bridges, is undercover in the commune, attempting to persuade a wayward young woman to leave the cult.
Leo is confronted by the fact that Jess is heading right into the heart of a mystery that has less to do with ancient gods than it does modern vices, and there is nothing old about spilling blood…

11 Replies to “Book Reviews | Black River and White Horse by Joss Sterling”

  1. These books have had the highest praises, yet they didn’t call out to me. So I am keeping them in the back burner.
    In a couple of reviews, some have called it cozy mystery, was it?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The main distinction between a cozy and a hard-boiled is a professional detective (hard-boiled) versus someone who has another career (bakery owner, etc…) who just happens upon a crime and clues (cozy). The main character is a PI who takes cases and works with a police detective and a psychologist who profiles, which is all pretty professional. So I would definitely call it hard-boiled and having heard the author talk about it a few times, it sounded like that was what she intended. I think perhaps the humor in the story blurs the lines for some people. There is some grit in the story and it doesn’t center around a particular location- so again these are hard-boiled attributes. They are sort of like Sue Grafton books with humor. I’m not sure if you’d like them or not. If you read a sample – that will be a good indicator for you because the beginning is consistent with the rest of the story.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Sounds cute. I was bingeing British mysteries for a while, but I moved past that about a year ago. Might be worth circling back.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I like hard boiled with a big dose of humor. It’s like a happy medium between a cutesy cozy and a gritty hard-boiled. Kind of reminds me of Sue Grafton’s books with the addition of ADHD-inspired humor.


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