Forty-something Blake is enjoying some time alone in nature in Big Sur when he receives a call from Chief Cooper, his top boss back at the Sierra Springs Police Department. Kate Winslow, a local businesswoman and ex-wife and sister to rich men, is concerned about the car accident that took the life of Jack Hamilton, the business partner she just fired. Since Hamilton’s car went over a cliff near where Blake is vacationing, Cooper asks Blake to scope out the crash scene. On his climb up after completing this task, Blake is nearly killed by someone throwing rocks from above. While local police initially dismiss Hamilton’s death as a suicide, Blake continues to investigate, soon meeting up with the alluring Kate, her sleazy ex-husband, and their 20-something daughter, Allison, who is living on her own and working as a prostitute. Blake senses that the Winslows are dealing with issues similar to those faced by his own family, which led to his depression and divorce; he got back on track only recently when he joined the force. When Kate’s ex-husband shows up dead, events escalate, putting Blake’s life once again in jeopardy. Kate’s brother in Utah rises up as a nemesis, and even Blake’s mother in Georgia gets threatened before there’s a resolution of sorts to the murky case. First-time novelist Babka weaves a multilayered tale that has shades of California noir à la Chinatown. Blake’s desire for connection as well as escape through nature is affectingly portrayed, and his interactions with the damaged Allison are particularly touching. However, Babka’s narrative occasionally gets bogged down in his protagonist’s back story, his various tics (e.g., trying to eat healthy) and key relationships, including those with a new girlfriend and a local African-American boy. Still, there’s rich material to mine in this strong start to a new series.
Accomplished, ambitious crime fiction launching a sensitive, complex hero and a promising array of supporting characters.