Retired journalist Mike Murphey’s engaging debut novel SECTION ROADS takes readers back and forth through a time spanning over 40 years. The story centers on old high school friends solving two puzzling, closely connected murders, the first which occurred in 1969 and sent one of the friends to jail. The second crime coincides with their class reunion in 2009.
The story is set in the fictional town of Arthur in southeastern New Mexico where corruption infects the local police department. The unbending grid of Arthur’s gravel section roads symbolizes the town’s rigid mores–past and present. It’s a place so arid and imbued with misguided religiosity that Cullen Molloy — a lawyer who is one of the novel’s central characters and a longtime Arthur escapee — feared disapproval about premarital sex so much that he never got to second base with his sweetheart, Shelby Blaine. By 2009, they still have strong feelings for each other despite Cullen’s hot new girlfriend, Lori Summerlin, a retired police detective.
Cullen’s teenage fear of his church youth group castigating him for fornication kept him from getting to second base with his sweetheart, Shelby. By 2009, privacy remains a rare commodity in Arthur except for the town’s oldest, wealthiest, and secretly most perverted citizen, Damon Hammond. Murphey creates a fine villain in Hammond, who whips up a huge dust storm of hate when Cullen and Shelby’s friend Buddy returns home at reunion time. Formerly Arthur’s high school football hero, Buddy finished high school in juvenile detention for accidentally killing Hammond’s niece during a Halloween prank in 1966.
Although SECTION ROADS is a joy ride of a whodunit, it’s bumpy at times due to a few minor problems with character development and humor. For example, the relationship between Lori and Cullen needs more juice to seem real. Like a deus ex machina, she seems to exist mostly as a plot aid to investigate the novel’s mysteries. And, despite creating satirical gems, such as town snoop Aggie Smoot who uses night vision goggles and a military recording device to gather gossip, Murphey takes the humor a bit over the top with Billy Weard Ward, a mentally fried CIA operative whose primary role seems to be comic relief.
SECTION ROADS is a funny and fast read that will keep readers guessing until the surprising twists and turns of its clever conclusion.
~Alicia Rudnicki for IndieReader