Wow. This is how you introduce a P.I. Joe Geraghty starts this book with the police looking at him for the murder of woman. There wasn't a lot of reason for him to be suspected -- I mean, sure, he'd spent a lot of time hanging out around her house lately and he has only the flimsiest of alibis for the time she was killed in her home. His defense is that his firm was investigating her on behalf of her employer, and that he was being mugged by some teenagers when she was killed. Although they hadn't been looking into her for very long, Joe and his partner had already found enough to want to dig into her further -- and now Joe's even more interested in the case, if only to make sure he doesn't get put in the frame if the police get desperate for an arrest.
Step one is completing their investigation of the woman and the situation at her employers. Step two is figuring out the husband's involvement. And then there's a dive into other possibilities. It's not long before Joe is beat up, repeatedly. There's some back and forth with the police -- and a lot of the other mainstays of PI fiction. I'm not suggesting the book is unoriginal at all -- Quantrill hits all the right notes, and the murder investigation goes just like it should. There are plenty of turns and revelations for Joe to deal with -- all of which end up painting a picture that looks far different from anything expected by the reader or any character at the beginning of the novel.
At the same time, they are visited by a woman dying of cancer. Her daughter had vanished 10 years earlier and she wants to find her and try to patch things up while there's still time. She doesn't have a lot of money to spend, but it seems like the kind of case that could make the detectives feel better about things than their typical fare -- so they take the case. There's not a lot of danger or suspense involved with this one -- it's mostly interviewing people, catching a break or two and a lot of hope that they're not looking for a corpse. The missing woman -- and her family -- hadn't had a very nice or easy life, and Joe uncovers a lot of ugliness along the way. But there's some hope, too.
Joe was an athlete who had a brush with success before being sidelined by an injury and having to start over without any real tools or options. His business partner/mentor pulled him away from that life and helped train and establish him as a PI -- if only to take over the business. Don hovers in the background of the novel, coming out to give advice (not always taken) and help connect Joe with sources of information. Hopefully we see more of him in action in future novels. Recently, Don's daughter, Sarah, has come on board mostly as office support -- but has moved into some investigative roles, as well. She's a single mom, and much more practical than Joe -- she's primarily involved in the search for the missing woman, and Joe and Don work both cases, with Joe doing the majority of the legwork (and receiving all the beatings and threatenings).
Because individuals in both cases are from the same part of town, there's some overlap in the investigations -- but this isn't one of those books where seemingly unrelated cases are really tied together. The two do inform each other a little bit, however, and Quantrill weaves them together well. It's not a fast-paced novel, but the writing is so smooth that it might as well be, it's very easy to find that multiple chapters have gone by without you noticing the passage of time, and once this story gets its claws into you, it won't let go. The murder case is complex without getting complicated, and the motives behind everyone's actions make a whole lot of sense.
There's a very Lincoln Perry/Joe Pritchard feel to the relationship between Joe and Don, for those that remember Michael Koryta's debut series. It's not the same series, but there's a very similar feel to the dynamic between the veteran with all the connections and the younger, less experienced detective with a troubled and oft-misspent youth. Throwing Don's daughter (and granddaughter) into the mix changes the dynamic, too. Watching these three interact is almost enough, if the cases they were working were uneventful, I'd probably stick around.
There's something going on with Don that I'm a little uneasy about, and am very curious about seeing what Quantrill gives us in the next few books. As well as a looming romantic entanglement for JOe -- that could be a very sweet story, or a giant disaster (possibly a combination of the two -- I might be holding out hope for option 3). But mostly, I'm looking forward to seeing how the events of this novel affect Joe moving forward -- I don't see how they can't.
While writing this, it occurred to me that most of the mystery novels I've read lately have featured at least one law enforcement officer, which is a pretty big change for me. A few years ago, I'd have to think long and hard to come up with a law enforcement protagonists. So getting into a new PI is a very pleasant change of pace. The fact that it's a good PI novel is just icing on the cake. This was a great ride, and I can assure you that you'll be seeing me talk about the next two novels in the series pretty soon, I really want to spend more time with these characters and I bet you will, too.