In Hester’s (The Open Window Murder, 2015, etc.) fourth Jonas Lauer mystery, old con artists don’t fade away—they’re horribly murdered.
In 1999, grifter Alston O’Brian posed as a land developer and scammed nearly everyone in Vonore, Tennessee, out of their property. He was caught, tried, and sentenced years ago, but now he’s three days out of jail and back at the scene of his crimes. Sheriff Lauer wonders why the con man has returned, and he wonders whether the rumor that he hid more than $500,000 of ill-gotten gains is true. Might someone murder O’Brian for that money—or just to get even? Someone might, someone could, and someone does. Lauer must find the person responsible for O’Brian being “tortured, then sedated. Tortured some more. Sedated again, before being hit by a car and finally squashed by the house.” Talk about literal overkill: the abandoned house in question, which had been sitting on stilts for years, now sits on the con artist’s corpse—and many local residents are now suspects in his murder. Hester successfully blends some silliness into his crime story, because in addition to working the murder case, Lauer has Mayberry-type crimes to solve: he must nab the so-called “boxer bandits”—two thieves who wear boxer shorts over their heads—and also track down the person who stole a framed copy of the Ten Commandments from the county courthouse. Although Lauer’s only in his mid-30s, Hester shows him to be old school in his methods—a “details man” who’s folksy but forceful when he needs to be. The book is similar, as it’s rich in details (“the constellation of acne across his face”) and down-home language (“Run around with dogs and you get fleas”). It sometimes seems like there are a few too many characters, but the compelling story unfolds realistically; some leads turn into dead ends, while others help the protagonist connect the dots. It’s unfortunate that the title is so similar to that of a popular Netflix TV series—although Vonore is truly a world away from Washington, D.C.
An engaging mystery that’s sure to please fans of the series and bound to attract new ones.