New police detective Bud Wright’s first major case is a baffling and bloody (double?) murder. In a room at the Plaza Motor Hotel in Fort Myers, the bodies of civic leader Hillard Norris and young Wash Davis are found shot dead. Hillard is clutching the murder weapon. Was it a murder/suicide? Did one of men’s wives shoot them both? Only weeks earlier, Wanda Norris had caught her husband in bed with Mary Davis. The crime causes a sensation, the more so because in 1949 Florida, a KKK stronghold, Wash’s murder crosses the color line. Mackle revisits this puzzle periodically, adding details each time, but is more interested in Bud and his relationship with the narrator, his fellow WWII vet Dan Ewing. The closeted lovers have as much to fear from the Klan and the law as blacks of the time. Despite his job managing the Caloosa Hotel, an upscale resort with a thriving gay subculture headlined by flamboyant drag queen Carmen Veranda and kept sub rosa by Dan, the veteran, who lost his first love aboard the USS Indianapolis, wants to be as open about his love for Bud as he can. Bud, by contrast, has reconciled his sexual desires with his fears and prejudices by installing a revolving door in his closet.
Rich prose adds heart and depth to the story, and the supporting cast is colorful. Though the sexual explicitness and the skimpy whodunit may turn off mystery fans, the target audience should enjoy Mackle’s debut.