Detective Tor Abelove of the Santa Christina Police Department has his hands full. A promising young man has been violently murdered behind a shabby bar and as witnesses point to a hate crime, medical evidence draws a different picture. Meanwhile, the shallow burial he has had investigated, on a tip from a friend, is proving to be an embarrassment for him and his superiors. All it contains is century-old remains in an aged coffin. Things couldn’t get worse. Except for when the coffin vanishes and is replaced by two mysterious corpses. Elsewhere, an undocumented migrant worker agrees to house-sit for a stranger, only to be plagued by violent home invasions, a priest discovers a miracle plantation of flowers on an ancient grave, and a wealthy family negotiates for the release of their kidnapped daughter. Helping (and hindering) in the background is Abelove’s old friend, Dr. O.G. Bradley, an elderly neuroscientist, who is occupied with a personal mystery of his own.
Author Freya Smallwood skillfully weaves these disparate threads into a cohesive narrative in SOMETHING TRICKY BAD, dropping clues and red herrings in equal measure in this latest installment of her Cop&Doc series. As typical of this genre, much of the ‘investigation’ occurs during conversations between different people. These talks successfully walk a fine line between driving the plot forward and providing character development; throwing light on personal and connected history. The exploration of bigoted prejudice and human grief is punctuated with just enough romance and comic relief to keep the pace from becoming too slow or the story too depressing.
SOMETHING TRICKY BAD is not for mystery fans who enjoy exciting twists, serial killers, and the technicalities of police procedure. While Smallwood’s quaint writing style and lavish descriptions lend personality to even the buildings and the landscape, sometimes using ten words where five will do makes it difficult to follow the dialogue. Also, the resolution of one of the book’s minor mysteries is not in keeping with how the police are expected to work, even in fiction. It’s a jarring reminder of why detectives in this type of writing usually work well outside the law.
Freya Smallwood’s SOMETHING TRICKY BAD is a comforting and sedate whodunnit with characters no less colorful than its scenic California setting. Reminiscent of novels from the “Golden Age of Detective Fiction”, this is the perfect read for mystery fans who prefer solving puzzles to experiencing fast-paced thrills.
~Sakina Hassan for IndieReader