In Meisler’s debut mystery, a California real estate agent investigates a poisoning after police eye him as a potential murderer.
Rick Davies’ latest real estate venture is a run-down home located in desirable Mill Valley, which he figures he can sell for nearly $1 million. Octavia Papadopoulos’ late sister, Sylvia, used to live there, and Octavia asks him to look through the attic to verify that it contains nothing valuable. He finds a few notable things that he keeps for himself, including several thousand dollars in cash and a vial of unidentified white powder. Not long afterward, police detectives ask Rick about a dead woman he doesn’t know, but who had his business card. The same detectives later arrest him on unspecified charges at the Mill Valley open house, but oddly, they don’t interrogate him. Following his release on bail, Rick learns that his newly deceased contractor, Barney, may have been poisoned with tainted cocaine—likely from the aforementioned vial, which Rick gave him. To ensure that cops don’t pin a murder on him, Rick searches for a killer, and Kirsten, a real estate agent he recently met, helps him, primarily out of boredom. They begin by talking to Octavia, then stumble upon a suspect or two, as well as other possible murders. Meisler’s unconventional mystery is brisk and generally funny. It’s set in 2008, and there are numerous jokes about then-current technology; in one scene, for instance, Rick watches Kirsten use a finger rather than a stylus on her new iPhone, which he says is “like looking into the future.” As a protagonist, Rick has some unsavory qualities; he drinks excessively, uses his dead father’s prescription morphine, and concentrates too much on Kirsten’s physical traits. Nevertheless, his first-person narration has a certain level of charm; at one point, for example, when he’s wary of someone’s motives, he recalls “that Stephen King movie with Kathy Bates.” The mystery itself isn’t fully satisfying, as Rick generates theories based mostly on speculation, leading to a somewhat convoluted final act. However, the darkly humorous ending does answer some lingering questions.
An enjoyably off-kilter whodunit with an ethically compromised amateur detective.