In Allen’s debut thriller, the drowning death of a man’s estranged wife may not have been accidental.
Denis Rosa, separated from wife Elissa for a decade, catches a flight from New York to California when he hears that Elissa drowned in her hot tub. He quickly suspects foul play upon learning—by his own experimentation—that one of her bottles of vodka is laced with GHB, the date rape drug. Cops nevertheless think Elissa may have taken the drug voluntarily, then accidentally passed out in the hot tub, but Denis is determined to prove she was murdered. He takes up residence in his cliffside childhood home, where Elissa had been staying, and links Elissa’s penchant for young Chicano men to a break-in at a pharmacy. LA County Detective Sue Mason believes Denis may be on to something, especially after masked men attack him at his home and drug him, leaving him for dead. Allen’s smart murder mystery gradually opens avenues for Denis and Sue to investigate: Elissa’s elective surgery may explain prescription drugs at the house, while her $200-plus receipt for a Mexican restaurant seems a bit high. The story also moves rather slowly, as stretches of the investigation proceed without anyone making much headway. Characters, in contrast, are persistently intriguing and delightful. Denis, in particular, is undeniably winsome, his antiquated notions acting both as a quirk and a flaw (he’s not quite used to women as priests). Sue also adds depth to the story; Denis may open an unofficial murder case, but it’s Sue’s presence that makes it official, and she likewise handles most of the actual investigation. Their inevitable romance is thankfully subtle and never a distraction. There’s also charming Matt, Sue’s son; his boyfriend, Josh; and the couple’s German shepherds, Frick and Frack, all of whom become Denis’ roomies and protectors after his attack. The leisurely mystery doesn’t skimp on the details, and Denis and Sue are faced with everything from an illicit affair to nosy neighbors, burglaries, and blackmail.
At a decidedly unhurried pace, this story’s enlivened by its colorful characters.