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Daughters of Bad Men (Jamie Rush Mystery, #1) by Laura Oles 

Past and present clash on the Texas Gulf Coast in this excellent debut mystery by Laura Oles 

Jamie Rush and her partner, Cookie Hinojosa, are skip tracers, private investigators skilled in the art of finding people who don’t want to be found. Sure, they do the bread-and-butter cases, too: divorce, surveillance, the occasional repossession, all to make ends meet; however, it is Jamie’s personal knowledge of how to disappear that has led to them excelling in their specialty. 

They live and work in the small coastal town of Port Alene. Near Corpus Christi, it thrives on the tourist industry: spring break, beach vacations for inland Texans, and the annual influx of ‘Winter Texans,’ those from out of state fleeing the harsher conditions in their home states. Cookie, a Hawaiian shirt-wearing native son of Port Alene, is part of a large, extended family, but Jamie, a more recent arrival, had a much different upbringing. 

Jamie’s parents were grifters, small-time con artists, and their activities necessitated frequent moves when things got hot where they were working or the grass looked greener elsewhere. Jamie had decided long ago she didn’t want any part of that lifestyle and left it and her family behind. However, she still hoped that one day they would straighten up and be the real family she’d always wanted. So Jamie couldn’t say no when her estranged brother, Brian, begged her to help him locate his missing daughter despite her suspicions he wasn’t telling her everything he knew. 

Daughters of Bad Men is a fantastic debut for the Jamie Rush Mystery series by author Laura Oles. The main character, Jamie Rush, is a likable and capable yet vulnerable young woman who, despite her unfortunate childhood, has broken away from her family’s shady way of life and landed on her own two feet with a pretty positive outlook. She’s one smart cookie, able to read people, and has a witty personality. She and her partner have a delightful friendship and excellent working relationship that I really enjoyed. Their friend, Erin Clay, is a woman of contrasts. Although looking like a member of the Junior League, she’s building a successful bookie operation among the locals and the Winter Texans and doing so away from the influence of her father, a well-known, if not notorious, bookie in Las Vegas. 

The author makes the coastal setting of Port Alene come alive. The descriptions are vivid and familiar, and I enjoyed trying to decide if the locations were actual ones, but disguised, or entirely fictional. I could easily visualize where the action was taking place, and I wanted to make a trip to Corpus Christi, Port Aransas, or Rockport quick, fast, and in a hurry. 

The plot is smart and complex and held my attention from page one. I got the distinct impression that there is so much more happening below the surface of life in Port Alene than what is visible and that our characters are just getting started with their involvement in the business of the various crime families and criminal organizations. That feeling gave the book an extra undercurrent of menace and danger lurking nightside there. I hope there are many more mysteries to come in this series. 

With its likable and engaging characters, sultry, salt-sprayed setting, and the emotion-tugging puzzle of a murder, I recommend DAUGHTERS OF BAD MEN to mystery fiction readers, especially those who like strong female protagonists, dog-and-cat partnerships, and a tempting setting on the Texas Gulf Coast.