The arrival of summer is truly a magical time.  The days become longer and once dormant life explodes back into action.  Flowers bloom and green grass grows as the dull and dreary landscape is transformed into a colorful and vibrant one.  Thoughts turn to leisure and relaxing at the beach or by the pool.  Ahh…summer is such a lovely time of year.  Unless you live in Snug Harbor, Ohio that is!  In her novel, Last Summer’s Evil, M.J. LaBeff pens an intense thriller which is brilliantly sprinkled with elements of the paranormal.  If you enjoy being captivated and engrossed in a story which very capably utilizes mystery, suspense, terror and fear, then hold on tight as this is the book for you!

The story begins by introducing us to Homicide Detective Rachel Hood who is obsessed with finding a serial killer who is loose and terrorizing Snug Harbor, Ohio.  Four years earlier this killer began a pattern of abducting one woman on the summer solstice and killing another in a twisted, ritualistic ceremony.  As a sick “signature” to the deed, the perpetrator would leave a ragdoll in the clutches of the dead woman which was made from the clothes of a previous victim.  Not only was this act disturbing and terrifying, but it was also an obvious baiting of the police who had virtually all but given up on ever solving this case.

Determined Detective Rachel Hood has her own professional obligation to solve this case, but also a very personal motive as her very own sister is one of the abducted victims.  To make things even more intriguing, Rachel Hood is a psychic empath and she feels the acute pain of the victims, even though she can do nothing to stop their agonizing fate.  Rachel is soon teamed up with a former flame, FBI Agent Nick Draven, who is an adept profiler and has some secrets of his own.  The sparks ignite between these two in a variety of ways as they virtually race against time to catch a sadistic killer before this year’s summer solstice.  Will they stop the madness in time?  Or will this perverted game of cat and mouse continue as a psychopathic killer roams free?

The plot of this story is very fast moving and will keep the reader deeply captivated and engaged.  Excellent thrillers are characterized by their unique ability to spawn feelings of excitement, suspense, shock and nervous anticipation.  This novel thoroughly accomplishes such a prerequisite and has all of these elements in spades.  Also, using the summer solstice as the “deadline” date to solve the investigation greatly enhances the anxious mood of the tale and is a clever literary device.  The plot is further augmented as the author juxtaposes catholicism with psychic abilities and witchcraft.  This is not merely done as a cheap trick devised to garner a reaction from the reading audience however.  It is clearly a method of exploring the deep spirituality which is embodied within all of humanity in a variety of fashions.  It also presents the conflict which inevitably takes place when opposing views and beliefs come head to head.  This deep thematic context is supported by an action packed and totally electrifying story.

The plot of the novel is certainly top-notch, but so is the character development.  While a number of different characters are presented, Rachel, Nick and the twisted killer are developed in the most detail.  Using a limited omniscient point of view, the reader is allowed access to their innermost thoughts, fears, doubts and motivations.  This allows for deep empathy to develop as their various plights, backgrounds and predicaments are explored.  Also, the tension created by the incipient romance between Rachel and Nick enhances the suspenseful nature of the story, while at the same time reveals more detail about their personality and character.  Another very clever tactic which contributes to the overall thrilling and spellbinding nature of the novel.  Complex character development at its best.

There can be little doubt that there are some disturbing graphic scenes and sexual content within this book.  As such, I would recommend it to a mature adult audience. However, I found the story to be altogether gripping and captivating.  M.J. Labeff is constantly weaving her craft throughout and is an exceptionally talented writer who really knows how to spin a tale.  If you love thrillers and beautifully intelligent writing, this book will be right up your alley!

5 out of 5 Thrilling Stars for this one!