Det. Sgt. Joe Burgess, of the Portland Police Department, kisses off his summer vacation to catch whoever raped and murdered an unwanted little boy.
After young Timothy Watts had been beaten, sodomized and stabbed, someone carefully washed his body, dressed him in a new pair of underpants, wrapped him in a clean blanket and dropped him off in a public park. The man who found his corpse refused to report it to the police, and his dog ran off with something—something blue, according to a second witness—he took from the scene. The case should be Terry Kyle’s, but Terry’s in such a funk about his ex-wife’s legal schemes to get their kids away from him that he’s drunk himself AWOL. So Joe (Playing God, 2006) gets the job of questioning witnesses like social worker Julie Gordon, who’s sunk in guilt because she didn’t rescue Timmy from the trash heap; accountant Regina McBride, who acts as if Timmy were trash; and Timmy’s monstrous family, who act like trash themselves. As someone whose neglect by his relatives made him “everybody’s child,” Timmy has stirred deep passions. The ensuing complications will include arson, methamphetamines, pedophilia and physical attacks.
Flora (Stalking Death, 2008, etc.) plots generously and gives her hero a heart as big as his sorely tried temper. But the characters’ endlessly expressed opinions could have used pruning.