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by John McMahon
G.P. Putnam's Sons, March 2019
320 pages
ISBN: 0525535535

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

As every reader of fiction (crime or otherwise) knows: no good deed goes unpunished. Detective Marsh does a seemingly minor favor for a hooker and wakes up to some very bad news. The guy he warned off is now dead. Marsh can't remember for sure that he didn't kill the guy, although he really hopes he didn't. Life only gets more complicated. There is an arson, and the body of a young man is found at the epicenter of the fire. The complications? He's a young black man, he's been tortured, and there's a noose around his neck. Another complication? The guy that Marsh may or may not have murdered is the prime suspect in the death of the teenager. And Marsh's fingerprints are all over the guys house. Not to mention the big wad of cash hidden at the scene.

As Marsh investigates the murder of Kendrick Webster and any possible ties to the murder of Virgil Rowe, all the while trying to keep himself out of the picture, old cases begin to rise to the surface along the peripheries of both cases. Naturally, some of these old cases are connected, however tangentially, to people with power and influence. Anything to make Marsh's life easier, right? His life is already pretty un-easy. He is recuperating from the accidental (?) death of his wife and child about a year earlier; his therapy is a common one and one not likely to do him much good, either in the long or short term. He drinks. A lot. That's the reason he's not sure if he killed Virgil Rowe - he was drunk for the whole evening and can't remember enough to convince himself he didn't do it. This makes him second-guess any and everything, which may or may not make for good detective work.

McMahon has written a very readable book. The characters are people a reader might (or might not) encounter in real life. Some of the situations border on the paranormal, which Marsh confronts as he works the cases. The reader can take that woo-woo as far as s/he wants to take it. The setting, to a reader who hasn't lived below the Mason-Dixon line in more than half a century, seems reasonable enough. The whole conspiracy theory element(s) are within the realm of possibility, barely, if one is open to that kind of thing. The biggest beef I have, as a long-time reader of all kinds of crime fiction is this: I am sick and tired of cops who run into a dreadful life happening (as everyone does, sooner or later) and turn to substance abuse to get past it. Really? I know it happens. I just truly wish it wasn't such a trope. It's the 21st century - hasn't anybody heard of therapy? I think McMahon could have made Marsh a viable character without having him be a drunk. I think it would have made for a better book. I think that very little would have had to be changed, in the grand scheme of things. If this isn't an issue for you, read on. Rant over.

§ I have been reading and reviewing mystery fiction for over a quarter of a century and read broadly within just about all genres and sub-genres. I have been a preliminary judge for the Malice Domestic/St. Martin’s Press Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Contest for at least 25 years. I live in Northern lower Michigan with my spousal unit, one large cat, and 2 fairly small dogs.

Reviewed by PJ Coldren, March 2019

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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