Private eye Dee Rommel returns to investigate an apparently murderous rich family in this knotty mystery series entry.
This second outing finds Dee working for 11-year-old Zar Sants-Mekler, who wants her to prove that his mother, Agnes Sants, a wealthy heir and astrologer, didn’t kill their gardener, who was found dead of a gunshot wound in their backyard. Complicating the case is Zar’s insistence that the crime be solved in just nine days so that he and Agnes can make their Thanksgiving flight to Vienna; complicating it further is Agnes’ statement to the Portland, Maine, police in which she confessed to the murder. Dee’s crusty boss, Gordy, wants to drop this turkey, but other developments make Dee question what seems an open-and-shut case: Unknown assailants viciously beat Zar’s father, Tobias Mekler, causing him to be put into an induced coma; an acquaintance of Gordy’s, involved in questionable real estate dealings with Mekler’s company, becomes part of the mystery; and Dee’s car is vandalized by two criminals who seem vaguely mixed up with the family. Dee delves into Agnes’ astrological community and is skeptical of its claims, but Agnes’ colleague does an astrological chart that has a weird prescience. The PI also gets a fix on the odd denizens of the Sants-Mekler household, including the frosty, secretive housekeeper, Dolba; Zar’s bullying teenage brother Fletcher; and his even crueler eldest brother, Toby Junior, a charismatic but menacing practitioner of Brazilian jujitsu who’s hell-bent on selling off Agnes’ heirlooms. As Dee sorts through this tangle, she weathers nightmarish flashbacks to the crime that caused her to lose the lower part of one leg and butts heads with Robbie Donato, the handsome police detective working the murder, with whom she had a brief romantic connection before he took up with the glamorous news anchor now carrying his child.Selbo sets her yarn in an atmospheric panorama of Portland, where, hidden behind a quaint veneer, poverty is plain: “Ratty sofas weigh down broken porches. Beer and soda cans have gathered into thick piles against fractured curbs. Empty lots sport tall, brown weeds, most have trapped trash in their thorns.” Her prose is punchy and evocative, as when she describes the aftermath of Tobias’ assault, with “his bashed head splotched with coagulating globs of vital fluid.” The novel is also stocked with vivid, sharply drawn characters. Zar, in particular, is a compelling creation: a nerdy know-it-all—named after the soothsaying prophet of Friedrich Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra—who’s forever spouting trivia that often sounds inane (“Do you know what gout is? It’s when the joints in your body get full of too many crystals made of uric acid or something and you swell up and your big toe can hurt a lot”) but sometimes turns out to have subtler meaning. Dee herself is shown to be a complex, prickly hero living with disability and harboring a deep curiosity and empathy beneath a hard-bitten exterior. Readers will happily follow her down many rabbit holes.
A twisty, entertaining whodunit with sharp sleuthing and a lot of heart.