Homicide detective Joe McGrath is on his way to Sunday morning Mass when he gets a call from headquarters saying the body of a “colored” woman has been found behind a local hotel. Her partially clothed, strangled corpse is posed at an odd angle and her lips are bruised—odd characteristics that make McGrath wary. Police soon learn the woman was a prostitute, and when a second woman is strangled exactly one month later, her body again posed, McGrath fears that the town may have a psychopath on the loose. Police find 19-year-old Luke Matthew’s wallet near the latest victim, and a racist police chief is quick to pin the murder on the African-American youth. McGrath and his partner interview the teenager, however, and don’t believe he’s guilty of anything but paying for sex. Nonetheless, some other cops beat Matthew until he signs a confession. Case closed? Not when McGrath’s on the case with his new teammate, African-American private eye Sam Rucker. Although both McGrath and Rucker are admirable, especially for their progressive views about race, Taylor wisely chooses not to make his characters saints. McGrath is separated from his wife and daughter, and Rucker won’t commit to his longtime girlfriend and cheats on her. Taylor’s dialogue is terrific, with lots of swift back-and-forth that speeds the story along. That said, some readers may be annoyed by the African-American dialect (“Yes suh. She work for some white lady what lives in Southside”). Also, at one point, Taylor tries to connect the prostitutes’ bruised lips to a “Kiss of Salvation” mentioned in Scripture (Luke 7:37-38), but he doesn’t fully explain the passage, and its meaning remains unclear. The book also might have benefited from a stronger edit to catch typos and punctuation errors, but a little fine-tuning would make it top-notch. This book is a page-turner, and when the investigators finally close in on the killer, it’s impossible to set the novel down.
Fast-paced detective fiction with a 1940s flair.