The murder of a famous author seeking refuge in a small town may be connected to bullying at the local high school.
On her first day back from maternity leave, Cedar Valley police officer Gemma Monroe and her partner, Finn, are sent to investigate reports of a prowler at Valley Academy, the local high school. There’s been talk that one of the students has imitated Banksy by getting a tad too artistic on school property. In spite of near-whiteout conditions, the two officers arrive at the school to find a man in the woods, evidently murdered, with a foreboding message stuffed in his mouth. Finn identifies the victim as famous writer Delaware Fuente, someone neither Gemma nor Finn knew was present in their small town. On investigating further, it appears Delaware arrived incognito months before to stay with his lifelong friend Lila Conway, a loner cat lady—though in this case the cat is a bird named Kojak. Lila housed Delaware while he acted as a writing mentor at Valley Academy, and the school is Gemma and Finn’s first stop in their investigation. Although no one claims to have guessed Delaware’s identity, students describe some unusual goings-on to the officers. Apparently someone using the moniker “Grimm” has been manipulating students to act out against one another. Is this simply a case of interstudent bullying gone too far, or is it somehow connected to Delaware’s visit? Group dynamics are already on Gemma’s mind because her former colleague Sam Birdshead, who was wounded in their most recent case (Inherit the Bones, 2016), has decided that he no longer fits in with the police department and intends to leave for employ with unsavory mobster types who may have their own connection to Delaware’s death.
Littlejohn revisits beloved characters without the bittersweet voice and depth of her series debut, but she indicates clear potential for further development in Cedar Valley.