Life and death keep getting in the way of a man attempting to heal in this debut novel.
At the heart of Heath’s mystery is Alan Wright. Residents of Eden Ridge, California, still look askance at fledgling minister Alan, who built his House of the Universal Message there at the urging of his friend and loyal parishioner Ruth MacKenzie. Alan is also the person who discovers the murdered Ruth in her antiques shop when he stops by to pick up a mystery gift that she promised him (“A pool of blood, black after hours in the open air, formed an ugly halo around her paper-white hair”). Ruth’s death hits Alan particularly hard, as he is still recovering from the loss of his wife, Patricia, in an auto accident two years prior. He decides he owes it to Ruth to investigate her murder, much to the annoyance of the local police chief. The Little Red Hens, a group of civically minded women that Ruth led, decide to help Alan. Alan determines that his gift from Ruth was to have been a rare 1612 Bible, which disappeared from her safe on the night she was killed. Alan doesn’t believe that the suspect who was caught fencing items from Ruth’s shop murdered her. He maintains the theft of the Bible increases the suspect pool, and he puts himself and those around him in danger as a result. In this series opener, Heath makes very few missteps. The author offers likable characters, starting with Alan, a man of mystery seeking to overcome his personal tragedy while standing up for people in his adopted hometown even though many have not embraced him. His Greek chorus is the Little Red Hens, some of whom fancy themselves as the town’s version of Jessica Fletcher. Heath’s villains are too obvious, but the reveal is enjoyable nevertheless. Even the former Gold Rush town of Eden Ridge becomes a character. Despite the book’s 376 pages, the narrative flies along, and the author will successfully keep readers guessing about upcoming surprises. This well-handled introduction of Heath’s reluctant hero Alan and his sidekicks bodes well for future volumes.
This philosophical mystery will captivate readers thanks to a winning cast and setting.