In Kay’s (Blood Runs Cold, 2017) mystery, the death of an assistant principal leads to an investigation of a murder-suicide and the unraveling of a 15-year-old conspiracy.
When 10-year-old Bobby Walker, his older brother Tommy, and cousin George discover the dead body of Manny Grimes, Columbia County Elementary School’s assistant principal, they do what most kids would: they report it to the local police in Augusta, Georgia. Enter Lt. Jim DeLong, a recovering alcoholic and current workaholic, who’s still struggling with the aftermath of his wife’s miscarriage and the strain it’s put on their marriage. Unfortunately for him, Grimes’ body isn’t where the kids said it would be—in fact, it’s disappeared. Then, when DeLong searches the man’s house, an unknown assailant nearly kills him. The cop calls in his former mentor and close friend, Russ Calhoun, a retired investigator for the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, who has keen detective skills. But DeLong and Calhoun’s investigation is soon derailed by the circumstances surrounding another case—a recent murder-suicide—as well as the revelation of secrets that threaten to destroy DeLong’s sobriety and his lifelong friendship with Calhoun. Everyone, it seems, is a suspect—at one point, Calhoun correctly opines that “the Walkers are one big, messed up family”—but DeLong’s rapidly deteriorating mental health may prove to be the key to unlocking the mystery. This novel has some minor flaws—DeLong’s alcoholism never quite feels authentic, and seems more like a narrative crutch; some clues are revealed through apparently paranormal or coincidental means, rather than solid detective work; and the murderer’s identity is teased unnecessarily toward the end of the story. However, Kay ably distinguishes the many characters and handles them with aplomb, and the many seemingly disparate plot strands come together in a satisfying, cohesive fashion. Although it’s disappointing that some of the more intriguing characters have little chance of making it to future books of a potential series, Kay clearly has the literary chops to replace them with new creations that are just as engaging.
A fine, technically adept mystery.