The second in Basinski’s (Dead in the Water, 2015, etc.) thriller series finds returning retired cop Lt. Mario Morales cutting his vacation short when he reluctantly joins a murder investigation.
Morales hasn’t even checked into the Bonita Inn on Florida’s Palm Island when he hears about a floating cooler with pieces of a body inside. But he’s there to spend time with Sun Li, hoping their friendship will develop into something more. After several days, the local chief of police (and fellow LAPD officer back in the day), Ed Shipley, asks Morales for help finding whomever shot and killed the victim, Mark Sullivan. Morales says no thanks, but when Sun Li unexpectedly splits, a letter left as explanation, he changes his mind. Ed believes Sullivan may have found gold, an alleged batch the CIA lent to the Cuban government in the ’60s that went missing. That’s not quite as shocking as someone taking a shot at Ed and Morales, though it’s unclear which one was the target. Morales heads to his home base of Little Havana for intel from the CIA and eventually confirms that someone’s definitely trying to kill him. He gradually uncovers a web of deceit surrounding Sullivan, as well as another body, and soon worries that Sun Li didn’t leave—not willingly, at least. Basinski quickly builds sympathy for his protagonist with Morales’ undeniable devotion to Sun Li. The ex-cop is slow to start questioning people, but once he does, the case escalates. He adds a suspect or two, for example, attempting to link Sullivan to the second murder, and with credible evidence, including an insurance policy and blackmail, red herrings aren’t easy to identify. An incriminating clue near the end perhaps too conveniently points to a killer, but that doesn’t make the inevitable confrontation any less intense. Morales’ first-person narrative makes him even more endearing, describing his surroundings not like a meticulous detective but an ordinary guy; a dinner table, for example, reminds him of Sunday meals with his grandma.
Readers will surely root for this good-natured gumshoe.