When his Rhode Island Catholic college realizes he’s transgender, a history professor gets fired from his job just in time to respond to the grandmother who cried wolf once too often.
Maggie Hazard’s phoned her grandson so many times to report imagined emergencies that he lets her latest call go to voicemail. This time the message turns out to be about her discovery of a bloody corpse in the kitchen. After he finally listens to it, David Hazard, who’s just been let go because a required medical form revealed his birth name as Rosalie, packs his overnight kit and heads for Little Compton, the end-of-the-line spit of New England shoreline where his widowed grandmother lives with encroaching dementia. She shows no more signs of wear and tear than usual, but Emma Godfrey, the next-door neighbor who lavished her with care, has been killed by a collision with a frying pan. It looks like an accident caused by the collapse of a shelf full of cookware in Emma’s kitchen, but it’s actually murder, announces Sheriff Billy Dyer. David’s complicated relationship with Billy, who dated and proposed to him before he transitioned, guarantees some initial awkwardness, but soon the two are working together to figure out who killed Emma—and what happened to local celebrity Marcus Rhinegold, who disappeared aboard his yacht shortly after propositioning David and inadvertently revealing that he and his wife, Alicia, nee Crystal Gronkowski, were hiding from the murderous Molinari gang. Even though you’d think that nothing ever happens in Little Compton, David observes tellingly that “The secret to village life is concealment,” and pretty much every single member of the cast turns out to be hiding some remarkably dirty laundry.
Readers who can accept the wildly improbable explanation behind the carnival of crime in Little Compton will find Burgess’ debut strongly evocative of a distinctive place, presented in a compelling first-person voice that manages to be beyond illusions but never cynical.