With breadth, depth, and texture far beyond Corbett’s easily pigeonholed debut (The Devil’s Redhead, 2002), this ambitious tale shows a murder exacerbating tensions between a jaded police force and a wary black community.
In Baymont, California, a declining city lodged between San Francisco and Napa Valley, detectives are summoned to investigate the death of Raymond “Strong” Carlisle. Once a jazz great of the Basie brotherhood, but more recently living on sweet memories and alcohol, Raymond was killed only hours after he drunkenly disrupted an important gig for his son Toby, also a musician. Cops find the corpse in the front yard of Raymond’s rundown Victorian house; lying nearby is Toby’s teenage girlfriend Nadya, banged-up, bloody, and completely disoriented. Toby and his father have a rough history; this and lazy police work make him a prime suspect, though the other, likelier perp is Arlie Thigpen, mule for a local druglord. Corbett reveals fairly early on that neither of these two young black men is guilty, as he focuses on the anatomy of a convoluted police investigation carried out by three very different detectives. Dennis Murchison struggles against personal hopelessness and professional burnout. His new partner, Jerry Stluka, has earned the dislike of both the cops he works with and community he works in. By contrast, Marion Holmes (nicknamed “Sherlock”) seems as much a social worker as a detective. Multiple subplots spin from these sources and a handful of others. Nadya becomes a target of the real killers, who mistakenly assume that she can identify them. Various women in the lives of the two announced suspects maneuver to exonerate them and/or shield them from police probing altogether. The solution to the murder puzzle lies in a pair of dilapidated Victorian houses on either side of Raymond’s in this grim panorama of urban blight.
A resonant, relevant piece of contemporary fiction.