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  • Writer's pictureMandy McHugh

Cut to the Bone, Ellison Cooper: A Review

Updated: Mar 24, 2020

Rarely do I jump into the middle of a series without having read the first books. It's hard to properly invest in characters when there are usually allusions to back story you're not privy to. Sometimes, it pays off. I found Jo Nesbo's Harry Hole series this way, and with the glowing reviews and Minotaur's stellar track record, this premise caught my eye. I decided to give Sayer Altair's world a go.

So glad I did. Sayer grieves her fiance but finds solace in her family and work. When she receives a call that an officer was killed over a young girl's ritualistic murder, Sayer is thrust into a twisting investigation involving a bus load of missing students, ancient Egyptology, and a deep-seated government conspiracy. Cut to the Bone was like reading the Da Vinci Code meets 24, but with a badass FBI agent who knows how to fight taking the lead. Everything about this book worked, from the expertly-paced plot, to the high-stakes case, to the complex world of Egyptian belief systems and their entanglement with DC architecture and history. It feels like a lot to lay out, and really, there is a lot going on in this book, but in the best possible way. Sayer is a wonderful MC with lots of relate-ability. Nuanced, developed, and conflicted, she's a beacon of morality for her team (which is equally nuanced and well-developed) and there wasn't a point where I rooted against her or expected her to fail. That's not to say this is predictable. While there were some familiar military/political tropes, this felt like a fresh take. Even when I put the pieces together, I enjoyed reading how the events unfolded, and I wanted more. One of my favorite aspects was her relationship with an anonymous nonviolent psychopath, a mysterious high-powered DC man with a fixation/obsession on Sayer. He's dangerous, but not lethal. He's definitely a psychopath, and he watches out for her not out of caring--something Sayer stresses he's not capable of, as psychopaths don't experience feelings in the same way--but out of the thrill of the game, the fascination of how she'll react to his prompts. While their interactions were sparse, this brought an extra edge to the narrative that I found deliciously enticing. I also appreciated the few chapters with the brilliant high school STEM students. Using their knowledge, they weren't simply bland, flat side characters waiting to be rescued. They were intelligent individuals, capable of taking action and caring for each other. I enjoyed this dynamic greatly, as too often the kidnapped become characterized as helpless. Yes, they were in danger, but they accepted this fate and decided to fight. Not something you see too often when the detective is the primary focus, but no character felt flat or unimportant. Cooper's writing is accessible, clean, and flows well, making it easy to pick this book up and lose track of hours. Thrilling, fast-paced, and dynamic, Cut to the Bone is a successful series entry, but also so well executed that you can pick this up as a standalone without being lost in translation. 10/10 recommend, and I look forward to reading the earlier books. Big thanks to Minotaur/St. Martin's Press and NetGalley for providing an eARC in exchange for honest review consideration.


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