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What the Monkey Saw (Death Doula, #1) by Lynn Chandler Willis 

Exciting, tense, and utterly unique, WHAT THE MONKEY SAW is one of the best crime novels I’ve ever read. 

After the line-of-duty death of her partner/fiancé, FBI agent Emily Gayle resigned her position to her childhood home in Meat Camp, North Carolina, deep in the heart of Appalachia. The reason she provided for public consumption was she’d needed to come home to care for her father, a retired police detective after diabetes deprived him of part of one leg. In reality, she was haunted by Luke’s death. She had had to leave him behind, mortally wounded, while she continued to pursue his attacker and hopefully rescue the little five-year-old girl he’d taken. But, in the end, the little girl had already been dead, the monster who murdered her evaded arrest, and Luke had bled out alone. Now, Emily worked as a death doula, a person who sat with the dying during their final days as they made their end-of-life journey. Because no one should ever have to die alone.

Jude and Crispin Courtland’s mother had died when Jude was 14; their father was an unknown. They had been raised by their widowed grandmother, Hazel, near Bristol, Tennessee, among the hills and gorges of Appalachia. Now in their 30s, it was their turn to care for her. Hazel was losing her second battle with leukemia and was tired of the fight, ready to transition to her next life. But Jude refused to give up, hoping for her recovery and determined to get together the money necessary for what he still believed would be life-saving chemotherapy. But in Appalachia, steady jobs and high wages were slim, and options were few and far between. So, Jude, with the help of his girlfriend who worked at the local pharmacy, hatched a plan to hijack the vans that delivered insulin to pharmaceutical outlets in the regions and, through a shady as hell middleman, sell the precious cargo on the black market. Jude justified his plan as helping to provide insulin to people who couldn’t afford the high prices charged by pharmacies. Along with Crispin and their cousin, Devo, the Courtland cousins had already pulled off several successful heists, and Jude had almost all the money needed for his grandmother’s treatment. With only one or two more jobs needed and Hazel beginning to decline, Jude hired Emily to sit with her while he and his brother were working their new gig. 

What the Monkey Saw is the first book in author Lynn Chandler Willis’s new series, Death Doula, and it is one of the most fascinating and unique crime novels I’ve ever read. With characters so finely drawn, you’ll feel as if you knew them personally, its unusual premise, its mix of poignancy, heartache, and heart-pounding excitement, you’ll want to read the whole thing in one satisfying and absorbing session. 

I loved the main character, Emily Gayle. She’s haunted by the circumstances of her fiancé’s death and conflicted over leaving her former career, but she feels like what she’s doing now is truly of more service than anything she’s ever done. Much of the story is told from her first-person viewpoint. 

Jude Courtland is also carrying many burdens. He is desperate to save his beloved grandmother but, at the same time, aches to be free of his responsibilities. He’s weary from the toll that being a caretaker extracts and feels guilty for his desire for release. He’s also keeping his brother in line, while Crispin seems oblivious to Hazel’s and Jude’s needs. Crispin loves animals, and when he discovers a small capuchin monkey inside one of the stolen vans, he takes it home as a pet, but not until after coming to blows with Jude over that decision. In his early 30s, Crispin is a little boy in a big man’s body. 

The story is told in alternating points of view, Emily’s and Jude’s, and this works well as the two separate storylines wind their way toward each other. They came together in a tense collision and kept me on the absolute edge of my seat all the way to its shocking resolution. 

I recommend WHAT THE MONKEY SAW to readers who enjoy strong and thrilling crime stories, unusual premises, Appalachian settings, or tales told from the “villain’s” perspective. 

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from the author through Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours.

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