In Cero’s debut novel, a divorced former New York City cop turned “seafaring drifter” comes out of retirement to solve a racially charged murder.
This busy, undemanding mystery takes place on lush Saint Vincent island in the Caribbean, where the murder of Torchy, a local black boating-pier “launch operator,” is being pinned on rich, white American yachtsman Ogden Christopher. Cash poor and not yet finished with his dream Caribbean-islands excursion, veteran Puerto Rican NYPD homicide detective Ward Perez jumps at the chance to finally prove his worth by lending his expertise to the case, especially after a harsh, undeserved demotion forced his premature retirement. Besides, he’s got a sailboat needing repairs and a son in law school to provide for. Though the evidence is circumstantial at best, pompous prosecutor Byrum Josephs is hell-bent on spearheading the case and boosting his conviction record by any means possible. Cero moves the action at a steady clip and keeps the plot tight, allowing protagonist Perez to shine as he determinedly scours the island, interviewing accused American Christopher and various locals who are aghast at the violent murder on their home turf. The detective puts his 28 years on duty to good use, tailing a shifty Rastaman and his malicious cohorts, who conspire to throw Perez off their trail. In between light romance with local waitress Darla and teaming up with adventuresome newspaperman Harry “Poet” Gundersen, accusations fly, Torchy’s true reputation is revealed and Perez’s investigation dives deep to expose a diamond-smuggling operation with deadly implications. Aside from a glut of clichéd Caribbean “calypso colloquialisms” and some stiff, implausible dialogue early on (“I challenge you to publicly validate that specious and malicious denouncement”), the author has produced an entertaining suspense novel set against an authentic, tropical backdrop.
Breaks no new ground, but this whodunit crackles with a likable hero and swiftly paced action.