Satan's Lamb's by Lynn Hightower is another of the Ohio/Kentucky novels recommended to me.
Lena Padget had been in graduate school completing a PhD in economics, but for the six years since her pregnant sister and nephew were murdered by her brother-in-law, a member of a satanic cult, she has worked as private investigator, helping women who are in trouble. Jeff Hayes got two, concurrent twenty years terms for first degree manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility. Having behaved himself and supposedly found God he’s being released early. Likewise, Hayes’ old business partner, Archie Valetta, is also being released. Padget and Hayes have unfinished business, and she’s also hired to protect Valetta’s ex-wife who fears that the former biker gang member is going to return to reclaim the stolen money she was supposed to have hidden. Soon Hayes is back on the scene wanting to collect his wife’s life insurance money, and Valetta attacks his ex-wife, making off with her young son, Charlie. With the help of local detective, Joel Mendez, a specialist in occult crimes, and Rick, her hacker ex-husband, Padget is in close pursuit, but when she finds Valetta he’s dead and the boy missing. It’s clear that Hayes is once again mixed up in a satanic cult and that they’re almost certainly holding the small child captive, waiting for the right time to use him as a human sacrifice. With the clock ticking, Padget races to try and save the young boy’s life.
It took me quite a while to get into Satan’s Lambs. Hightower writes proficiently, but the story took some time to develop and whilst the characters were well drawn it wasn’t until well into the book that I started to identify with them. My feeling was that the first half of the book spent too much time trying to set out the context for the story and flesh out the characters and their relationship with one another. In the second half of the book there was a better balance between description, action and contextual material and it morphed into a page turner and I couldn’t wait to find out what happened next. The relationship between Padget and Mendez develops nicely, and there is a good cast of supporting characters. I won’t give any spoilers, but I thought the moral ambiguity of the ending was excellent. Overall, a slow burner that got better as it progressed.