Review #7: Too Hard to Handle by John Perich

Too Hard to Handle is the second in the Mara Cunningham series, the follow-up to John Perich’s debut, Too Close to Miss. In the first book, we are introduced to Mara, who is a photographer for the Boston Tribune. I really enjoyed the first book, and as I discussed in my review (linked above), I thought the Mara Cunningham character was awesome. This is no damsel in distress or shrinking violet. Mara can make some dumb decisions, but they feel realistic, and she’s still pretty kick ass.

Mara continues to be badass in Too Hard to Handle, and this time we also get to see a bit more of her vulnerable side. In Too Hard to Handle, Mara is called to report on the execution-style murder of a Boston cop. She still has some connections with Boston P.D., one of whom let’s her look at the surveillance video of the shop where the cop was killed. Mara is shocked to recognize her brother on the tape, especially since he has not been heard in ten years, after jumping bail on a bank robbery charge.

Mara, of course, instantly jumps into investigating her brother’s involvement in this police officer’s death. We get some nice flashbacks to various parts of her childhood and adolescence, getting a deeper understanding of her relationship with her brother and mother, and how she become the person she is now. At the same time, Mara is tentatively entering a relationship with a kind, sexy, man (who owns a boat). A nice part of the book is her cautiousness here, as it is totally fitting with her character. This man does not come along and immediately change her into a trusting woman who is “fixed” by some good sex. If anything, it makes her a bit more unhinged!

I totally love the Mara character. I love that she’s raw and figuring herself out, but at the same time hard-working and capable. She’s a little sassy, but not unrealistic. I enjoyed her budding, teaching relationship with intern, Sean, as I think this shows her passion for her work, but her low tolerance for bullshit. Her thinking is smart, and her investigating skills solid, but she sometimes makes some dangerous and risky decisions. Again, I am impressed that a man developed such a wonderfully strong, yet flawed, female character.

The mystery was also pretty solid. I like that, for the most part, there was no red herring-ing, or making it all some big misunderstanding to protect Mara’s emotions. I can’t say much else without spoiling the story, but generally, Perich pulls no punches in creating a devastating outcome. He also continues to make excellent use of the city of Boston, even more so than in the first book. He clearly knows the city well, and understands its history and people, which I love. Boston is a great city to set mysteries in, with its various immigrant enclaves, gentrified neighborhoods, gang-run neighborhoods, and mob histories, and Perich uses this to the book’s advantage.

I definitely hope that Perich continues to write, and that he gives us more Mara Cunningham tales. I do agree with a review on GoodReads, however, that, since he is presenting Mara as part of a series, it is okay for him to not tie up every detail quite so neatly and allow some aspects to be carried into the next in the series (sort of like how Alex and Robin’s relationship has been an overarching part of Jonathan Kellerman’s Delaware series).

Disclaimer: I received this book from John Perich because he enjoyed my previous review. That did not impact my perception of this book, although I think he is a dedicated and gracious author!!!

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