You never know what you’re going to get from a first-time author. You could hit the jackpot or go bust. As an avid murder mystery reader, I was excited to read “Illusions of Paradise,” the debut novel from author Pat McKanic. Not only does she reside in my hometown of Sarasota, Fla.; the book cover blurb sounded so intriguing, I decided to give it a read. I’m glad to say that I hit the jackpot.

The book focuses on a newspaper reporter named Toni Jackson. She arrives on a fictional Caribbean island and falls in love—against her better judgment—with Police Detective Jameyson Tolliver.

She thinks she’s found paradise. And you will, too, based on the author’s ability to transport you to the island with her descriptions of the lush vegetation, turquoise waters, white sand beaches, mouth-watering Caribbean cuisine, traditions and customs.

Things go south, though, when a woman is found murdered on a beach, and police seem unable, or unwilling, to solve the case. They’re covering up for someone, but who?

Everyone, including Toni’s lover, is suspect, and she realizes that nothing is what it seems; it’s all just an illusion.

Toni is determined to get justice for the murdered woman at all costs. When her sources start dying, she decides to leave the island. But a sinister someone has other plans for her and escaping Paradise may not be in the cards for her.

“Illusions of Paradise” is a whodunit in the truest form. Early on, the story focuses on the love story between Toni and Jamey. That concerned me initially, but to her credit, McKanic masterfully intertwines their story with the murder plot in a way that is both captivating and satisfying.

This book ranks as one of the best murder mysteries I’ve read in terms of keeping me guessing. The book is chock full of twists and turns you’ll never see coming. One chapter, especially, is written so cleverly and has a twist so shocking that you’re compelled to go back and read it again.

The entire book is well-written, suspenseful, quirky, laugh-out-loud funny and sexy without being graphic or over-the-top.

The characters are exceptionally well-developed. You know that a book has truly captured your imagination when you find yourself missing the characters. I felt like I knew the people in this book personally. That can be attributed in part to dialogue so authentic and believable that it practically jumps off the page. Surprises abound at almost every turn, leading to a heart-racing, climactic and satisfying conclusion.

This book will keep you engrossed and entertained from the first to the very last page. I enjoyed it so much that I chose it for my book club, and the club members loved it, too. “Illusions of Paradise” is an excellent read from a first-time author, and I anxiously await the next book from McKanic.

“Illusions of Paradise” earned a Five Star review from Readers’ Favorite; 410 pages; published December 2017. 5 Stars *****