In Too Deep by Lynn Blackburn blends romance, suspense, and a riveting subject matter, human labor trafficking. Although the first book of the series was good, this book should be rated excellent.

The novel begins with a partially submerged car that drives off a bridge, killing the woman occupant, where readers might think of Chappaquiddick. After recovering the body, the Carrington North Carolina dive team finds an encrypted laptop, and an unsettling connection with investigator Adam Campbell concerning a message written on the woman’s tummy in permanent marker. They enlist Dr. Sabrina Fleming, a professor at the local university with unparalleled computer security and forensics skills, to recover the files from the laptop.

Through their investigation it is found that human traffickers are threatening people, forcing them to become employees with slave labor wages. The way the author tackled this tough question was done very well and was extremely informative.

As intense as the human trafficker subject issue is, Blackburn does a great job with the dialogue and banter between the characters. The series does not delegate the previous book’s main characters, Leigh and Ryan, to a cameo appearance, but gives them a prominent role in this book. All the characters’ interaction has the reader feel as if they were also a part of the sarcastic conversation. This camaraderie brings the story and the personalities to life.

The relationship between Adam and Sabrina is also intense. It develops slowly, since she is clueless when it comes to reading his social signals. Although brilliant, she has a hard time determining people’s body language and verbal hints.

The story has a lot of suspense, family drama, and romance. Although each book  revolves around four members of an investigative dive team, plus a computer expert, and a nurse, readers will enjoy that each gets their share of page time with the concentration on a different hero and heroine.

Elise Cooper: You explore the gripping subject of trafficking?

Lynn Blackburn: When people hear about this subject matter they think about sex trafficking. I did not realize that labor trafficking also exists. A lot of people that have to endure this have either entered the country legally or thought they entered legally, doing it the right way. Many times, they had their papers taken, threatened physically, or had their families threated physically. There is the underlying fear of law enforcement since they usually do not speak the language and have a hard time communicating. It is a horribly abusive system. Restaurants and hotels, many in the hospitality industry, are able to “hire” these people without facing consequences.

EC: What was it like to write such a gripping subject?

LB: With this genre, when tackling a heavy subject like trafficking, there is only so much I can write about because I also need to put in the romance and suspense. This was some of the hardest writing I have ever done. Those of us that live a comfortable suburban life tend to think it would never happen here, but somewhere else. It is not happening in a far away place, but in our communities.

EC: The car scene reminded me of Chappaquiddick with Ted Kennedy?

LB: No, I did not think of that incident. What I wanted to show is the investigating aspect of the diving scenes. I read a book by an underwater criminal investigator and he talks about what happens when cars hit the water: how far can they sink, will they flip over, and how deep would they go. For me, the important aspect was the ability of the divers to get to the victim and lift the car out of the water.

EC: Parent’s have a profound effect on their children?

LB: In this book, Sabrina’s parents made horrible mistakes, but did have some good qualities. They can never undo what they have done, but maybe it is possible to have redemption. Sabrina stilled loved her parents even if they had blown it.

EC: How would you describe Sabrina?    

LB: Brilliant, cautious, and leery, with trust issues. She is also resilient, analytical, and blunt. I think she acts like Bones from the TV series because she is not materialistic and can by nerdy, always focused on her work. Her looks were based on a few pictures I saw of Evangeline Lilly, one with her hair messed up in a bun, and the other beautiful in a drop-dead gown.

EC: How would you describe Adam?

LB: A protector, peacemaker, loyal, and family minded. He is not a daredevil like Ryan. I projected myself in the scene where his mom comes home and rushes to him.

EC: How would you describe the relationship between Sabrina and Adam?

LB: She analyzes it too much. When she grew up she was wealthy, but now lives an astute life with very few possessions. Yet, she has fallen for the wealthiest guy in town. She considers money a negative. But now she has to take a leap of faith and hopes to get her heart to override her brain. Adam sees in her what she cannot.

EC: Can you explain the quote, “Friendship is a wonderful basis for a relationship”?

LB: I met my husband through some mutual friends when we were both students at Clemson. I went right up to him and we started dating two weeks later. I knew he was the one after a month. I did ask the question on social media, would they take a friendship to something more? The responses varied from ‘yes’ to ‘we have been married for 32 years’ to ‘I regretted every day we were married’ to ‘it did not work out and we lost the friendship.’

EC: Are you a computer nerd since you write about one?

LB: No. I have a chemical engineering degree. I am much more comfortable in a lab than working on computers. I would say I am a science person. To get my information I ask the experts questions, including computer experts, former police officers, medical examiners, and those in the military. Josh, someone I spoke with, helped immensely with aspects on hacking, the dark web, and what Sabrina’s lab would look like.

EC: Why lavender roses?   

LB: I found out each color of a rose has a different meaning. Adam gave them to her because lavender roses means love at first sight. These particular roses are beautiful, but not cheap. I had a scene with Sabrina where she was livid that Adam’s cousin gave her red roses because it means love and deep emotion.

EC: Why the Christmas lights?

LB: Where I live people create unbelievable Christmas displays in their backyard. They are so romantic. Christmas is my favorite time of year and I am a sucker for Christmas lights. I actually put up my decorations and tree the day after Thanksgiving and they stay up until New Years. The scene with Adam’s parents putting them up in their backyard for Christmas was based on myself. Adam and his siblings were stuck home with Chicken Pox. When I was ten there was an outbreak around Christmas time. Even though I did not catch them until March, I can sympathize how miserable Adam and his siblings were since I had them everywhere including in my mouth and ears.

EC: Sometimes it is hard to decide on how much detail?

LB: As a reader I do not need to know it all. With the scene of the car in the water I did not want to put in too much detail that would slow the story down. I call it the ‘Tom Clancy effect,’ with so much detail the story gets bogged down. I try to keep that in mind and leave out the boring parts. As a writer, I want to find the balance.

EC: Can you give a heads up about your next book?

LB: The third book in the series will be released in September, the final book in the series. It will focus on Gabe and Amissa, and their secrets. A lot of my readers wanted this book to be Gabe’s story, but I think they were happy with Adams. I am also working on a project proposal for a new three book law enforcement series that will be set in Raleigh North Carolina about an hour’s drive from Carrington, so maybe the dive team characters will have cameos.