Butterfly is the first book I've read by Sharon Sala, and I must say I'm quite impressed. Half romance, half murder mystery, I was hooked from the beginning.
My heart goes out to China Brown. With a tortured childhood, she's grown into a fearful adult who trusts the wrong man. Now she's out on the street with not a penny to her name. The only thing keeping her going is the baby growing inside her. She vows to find a way to get some help, and make a decent life for her child.
But on her way to a church mission, she finds herself in the middle of crime scene. A tall blond woman just had her picture snapped by one of those sleazy tabloid photographers. But clearly, the woman doesn't want those pictures to see the light of day. She takes out a gun and kills the photographer, then grabs his camera. Realizing that China has witnessed this scene, the killer knows she has to eliminate China as well. She shoots, and leaves China for dead.
Next thing China knows, she awakens in a hospital to discover that her baby is dead. Furthermore, she's the only witness to the crime which means her life will be in danger if the killer finds out she's still alive.
Ben English is the detective assigned to China's case. Literally from first sight, he falls in love with China, and vows to find her baby's killer.
Finding a "tall blond woman" who might have a motive to kill the sleazy photographer is easy. Just search through the photographer's apartment at his hidden cache of negatives to see who he might have been blackmailing. The problem is that too many people fit that description!
Thus begins Ben and China's investigation as they (and we) get clues leading towards the killer. And, along the way, we get to "meet" the three tall blond women who become our main suspects. All have motives, and all have secrets. So, that's where all the fun begins!
I loved the excitement surrounding the murder investigation and the fun of getting to know the three women who are the main suspects. Each of them had some "good stuff" to hide. Meaning naughty (and deliciously fun) stuff to read about. As I was reading, I kept changing my mind about which one was actually guilty. The book gives nothing away to force you one direction or the other, you get to just play along until it's all made clear in the end. The whole time I was reading it, I was truly enjoying the mystery, and couldn't wait to find out which naughty woman was the shooter!
I enjoyed getting to know the main characters. China is a very sweet woman who has overcome so much grief in her life, you just want her to find some peace and happiness. Ben is a kind, gentle man, who loves her completely. Ben's mother, Mattie, plays a large role, too, as she takes in China and helps hide her whereabouts. Considering that China is a stranger to her, she lovingly gives of herself and her home to help this woman. Two other characters are also very sweet - Cowboy and "Old Katie". Basically, all of the "good guys" in this book are very well developed, and very likable. And the potential "bad guys" - all those women with naughty secrets - are easy to dislike, and fun to "watch" - especially the ones that eventually get what's coming to them.
My only real criticism with this book is the lack of realism surrounding Ben's fall for China. He took one look at her and was instantly in love. He immediately started calling her "Honey" and "Sweetheart". And before we knew it he was telling her how much he loved her. I just didn't find that very realistic. I would have preferred them to start out as simple detective/victim, then become friends, and slowly discover deeper feelings for each other. As it was, their romance seemed forced, a plot device that really wasn't necessary.
Despite that minor criticism, I enjoyed this book immensely and eagerly recommend it.
One last note - the title - "Butterfly". One of my pet peeves is books where the title has no relevance at all to the story. I thought that would end up being the case, here, as the word "butterly" had no relevance at all throughout 99% of the book. But then, at the very, very end I was pleasantly surprised when a meaning to the title emerged.
Good job, Ms. Sala!
Update 2/08: Well, I finally tried another Sharon Sala book, but it wasn't nearly as good as this one. Remember Me