The saga of Memphis police detective Julia Todd continues with this rollicking fifth installment of Paavola’s (Blood Money, 2013, etc.) series.
Barely escaping a bloody gunfight with a Mexican cartel hit man in the previous installment, Lt. Todd is back on the force and faced with a string of unsolved hate crimes in the city. A serial killer is targeting gay men and has taken three lives so far over the last 20 months. There’s also political unrest due to a proposed nondiscrimination amendment that will include the LGBT community. Todd’s rugged, capable homicide team of Tagger and Marino are enlisted to aid in the investigation of another gay murder victim, Harlan Gottfried, who was present at an evening protest and killed soon after by blunt force head trauma. The suspects include neo-Nazis and Klansmen. Although the investigation is initially sluggish, things heat up when a church reverend with controversial opinions is discovered shot to death in the same manner as the other victims. With her sleuthing skills in full gear, Todd and her associates diligently put the puzzle pieces together. Along with the boilerplate sleuthing essentials, Paavola confidently references and explores several contemporary hot-button issues such as LGBT equality, hate crimes, homophobia, and so-called “conversion therapy,” as well as the lieutenant’s own struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder from her recent, ultraviolent ordeal. The detective work is smoothly depicted throughout. However, the book oddly missteps in portraying Memphis police officers in a departmental briefing as laughing when the issue of antigay hate crimes is mentioned. And although one of Paavola’s most impressive talents is keeping his storylines moving, this particular narrative is overlong and heavy on extraneous exposition. As the suspects mount, however, this procedural’s conclusion is handled with the author’s usual care and features some surprising revelations.
A slow-paced entry that’s buoyed by a durable detective and a seemingly never-ending dossier of crimes.