In rapid-fire succession, two disappearances and two seemingly unrelated crimes come to the attention of a Tennessee sheriff in this fifth installment of a series.
First, middle-aged Mavis Rutledge, estranged wife of wealthy entrepreneur Emmet Rutledge, is reported missing. Emmet’s known for having recent money trouble, and upon investigation, Sheriff Jonas Lauer learns he has other issues. “A man who has been using drugs, gambling, and is now carrying a gun,” Lauer observes, noting that those three things “rarely ever mix well together.” Still it’s a surprise when a blood-soaked but corpseless scene is discovered on the sailboat Mavis has lived on since splitting from her husband. Then Emmet also vanishes. As does something else—the Veterans Memorial’s 91-pound, 30-by-60-foot flag has been taken hostage for $10,000. No doubt the theft came to life courtesy of a City Hall employee’s pillow talk about the high cost of the flag to a prostitute he paid with stolen municipal funds. Finally something is found, not lost: but it’s a semi delivering to area food marts, and it holds more than pallets of baking ingredients—it’s also packed with heroin. “The Dixie Mafia,” a syndicate that operates “throughout the South,” underpins all these incidents. Mark Russell, an educated and unusual member of the mob, seems to be pulling the strings, or is he just struggling to survive a new crime boss? Regardless, he taunts Lauer with phone calls and questions about his parents and his upcoming nuptials to his fiancee, Lydia Corbett, an investigator for the attorney general’s office. As the body count rises, brief summaries of previous books in this excellent series arrive organically. The pacing roller-coasters from stretches of calm to accelerated heights and unexpected turns, with the occasional inversion of a character or theory. The vibrant dialogue and landscape seem ripe for a quality cable TV miniseries. Hester (The House of Cards Murder, 2016, etc.) writes an engaging, realistic mystery with strong characters, but the real puzzle is why a writer so talented can’t find an editor who can fix the book’s rampant comma errors and other mistakes. Case in point: main character Emmet’s name is spelled alternatingly Emmet and Emmett, sometimes on the same page.
A stay-up-late-until-it’s-finished mystery with pitch-perfect dialogue, a Southern sexy feel, and empathetic characters on both sides of the law.