A San Francisco reporter might lose more than her job when her editor forces her to investigate the supposed suicides of two New York breeders of prizewinning dairy cattle.
In this debut novel, Cora Brooks is a veteran on the police beat for the San Francisco Standard. She is 45 and suffering the indignities of “an ungrateful son, a husband who’d found a younger woman, a body run amok,” not to mention an unsympathetic editor who seems bent on replacing her with an Eve Carrington–like rival reporter. Despite her protests, Brooks is dispatched to New York on the whim of her publisher to follow up on a New York Times story about two dead men, found in separate locations. One of them, Sean O’Brien, was the publisher’s friend. The other was Franklin Santerra, a dairyman who, over a four-month period, sold O’Brien three highly insured prize cows, each of which died within four weeks of the transaction. Over the course of a fraud investigation, O’Brien ingested strychnine, and Santerra, four days later, blew his head off with a shotgun. Brooks has her suspicions, not about the case, but concerning the editor’s motivation for sending her: “You think I’ll screw up so you can fire me. Save one layoff.” The seasoned reporter does not anticipate becoming part of the story as she uncovers links to her own haunted past and seeks closure to the mystery of the mother who abandoned her. The book alternates chapters Gone Girl–style, a device that works intermittently. At one point, Brooks is the focus of five consecutive chapters. Others are devoted to Abby, a woman at the turn of the century who becomes involved with an O’Brien ancestor; State Police Maj. Del Somer, who was once married to O’Brien’s widow; and Alice, Brooks’ elusive mother. Da Vigo has a strong sense of place and writes authentically about a profession under siege by corporate takeovers. And in Brooks, she has created a flawed but capable and empathetic character. “You’re a pisser, aren’t you?” Somer asks at one point. “Only in my better moments,” she replies.
Stop the presses! An appealing crime-fiction heroine is born.