It’s Christmastime in Memphis and someone is systematically murdering senior citizens, so it’s up to Lieutenant Julia Todd of the Memphis Police Department to sort it all out.
In the second installment of Tennessee writer Paavola’s Murder in Memphis series, the author incorporates buzz-worthy issues such as bullying, teen suicide and elder abuse into a brisk, engaging whodunit. The action begins in 1966 where tomboyish outcast Carol Stromber, a Central High School freshman, has it rough. She’s harshly bullied by a clan of eight popular classmates and believes her parents consider her their “social disaster.” Carol resorts to cutting herself to relieve the retaliatory rage she feels daily, an impulse even psychotherapy can’t quell. Carol becomes pregnant by a headstrong, fast-talking social activist and then heads off to a Colorado commune to start over. Fast-forward to 2008 where elderly hospital patients are receiving fatal doses of poison in their IV drips and the case winds up on Lieutenant Julia Todd’s busy desk. Assisted by homicide detective Johnnie Tagger, the investigation quickly becomes personal when Todd’s 77-year-old aunt Louise, who attended Central High many years back, decides to move into the Haven for Seniors retirement home—a place, Todd shockingly discovers, alive with questionable behavior warranting mandatory sex education classes for its residents. Adding to the story’s allure is Paavola’s inclusion of a simmering love interest between the lieutenant and widowed psychologist Mark Sanders, and the mention of other likeable characters from the series’ first installment, such as precinct secretary Teresa Johnson. Todd is a well-drawn heroine whose focus rarely strays from the array of clues surrounding the calculated homicides of Central High’s “Hateful Eight.” But who among the formerly bullied classmates is holding the deadly grudge? Once the resilient lieutenant begins her smart sleuthing, the plot sizzles as case leads and shady characters smoothly integrate themselves into the author’s grand design and rousing conclusion.
An assured, soft-boiled sequel steeped in revenge, cold-blooded murder and contemporary calamities.