An inspector investigating the murder of an American in Patagonia, Chile, isn’t short on suspects or motives in Bragg’s debut novel.
When mountaineer Todd Miller winds up dead with an ice ax between his shoulders, Chilean police inspector Juan Antonio Paz gets his very first murder case. Todd’s climbing companions are, of course, the first to come under suspicion. After all, Todd’s girlfriend, Zoe, was a former lover of one of them. Todd had also banked a sizable stash of money that his pals apparently didn’t know about. But even in the remote village of Puerto Verde, other potential murderers aren’t in short supply. Later, another body is found, unmistakably killed with an ice ax. The novel has a superb protagonist with a riveting back story. Paz specializes in financial crimes, but his previous case brought down his boss’s politician friend, and so his subsequent transfer to “the far south” is clearly a punishment. Regardless, he excels at his introductory homicide, re-examining evidence and constantly interrogating people, resulting in a slew of reasons why anyone would want Todd dead—as well as some red herrings. But what really sets Bragg’s novel apart is its ominous setting. Puerto Verde seems secluded from the rest of the world. In one scene, Paz is caught in the rain, which turns to snow and then into a whiteout. The wind, too, is relentless, always making its presence known even when characters are safely inside. Bragg amps up his tale when a plane attempts to land on a runway, leading to a crash and explosion; with secrets from Todd’s group as well as from villagers; and a hint of a possible romance between Paz and Deputy Investigator Luisa Arce Gonzalez. There’s also scorching prose, as in Paz’s phone conversation with his judge uncle: “Two men—one old, one in his prime—connected by wire and silence and memory, both lost in thoughts of the past.”
A gripping, entertaining mystery bolstered by spooky ambiance.