In Bell’s (The Outer Circle, 2015, etc.) mystery, a California man digs into the peculiar circumstances surrounding the death of his former high school football teammate.
Ben Feldman is a 50-something divorcé who lost his son in a tragic accident several years back and his mother to cancer more recently. He now lives in his childhood home in Rochester, California, with his widowed father. In the three weeks since he moved back, he hasn’t once visited his high school chum Evan Johnson, who lives only four houses down. Then Ben hears that Evan shot and killed his wife, Rose Johnson, before killing himself. Alex Martinez, another friend from school, now a Los Angeles police detective, asks for Ben’s help in investigating what happened. He gives Ben, who works at a tech company, a copy of a partially damaged video from Evan’s computer; the few seconds of footage show Rose having sex with an unidentified man. Ben soon uncovers other secrets among his neighbors, including other extramarital affairs, blackmail, and another apparent suicide. With assistance from others, including his co-worker and lover, Kenya Jordan, Ben looks for a pattern among the various events. Other cops aren’t pleased with his unsanctioned investigation—Alex isn’t even officially handling the case—but it seems that Ben is on the right track, particularly when a couple of people he questions turn up dead. Bell’s mystery offers a worthy twist on the standard amateur-detective tale, in that the investigation also helps the protagonist deal with other, unrelated problems: Ben blames himself for his son’s death, but his sleuthing pulls him away from dwelling on somber thoughts. Bell’s scenes are concise and engaging, and the complex plot never feels convoluted despite its numerous characters. The various subplots are absorbing and relevant to the main story, such as Ben’s relationship with Kenya, in which he may be looking for more of a commitment than she has in mind. The resolution to the mystery may not surprise many readers, but they’ll find it exhilarating to watch the protagonist make connections.
A remarkable detective novel, thanks in part to its sincere, exemplary protagonist.