No sooner has federal prosecutor Nick Davis developed a crush on a comely bird-watcher who's discovered the half-buried body of a college kid than she is killed, too, drawing Davis into a case involving drugs, false alibis, a bad tattoo and bad memories.
The setting is a New England–ish town where Davis lives conveniently near his ex-wife, Flora. (Nick and Flora, get it?) Twenty-five years after recriminations over their son's death separated them, they're on affectionate terms—except when she hears about him dragging their smart, impressionable 14-year-old daughter, Lizzy, on a murder case. The novel boasts a classic small-town narrative in which you can count on every supporting character playing a significant role in the outcome. The murdered collegian, Zander Phippin, was selling marijuana to pay for his tuition. Chief among the murder suspects is the cartoonishly named Scud Illman, but everyone falls under scrutiny, including Nick's assistant, former NFL kicker Upton Cruthers, and arrogant defense attorney Kendall Vance. Nick is further stretched by a case involving a mother who became a minor player in a meth operation to take care of her three kids. He's also aware that his actions may impact his chances of getting appointed circuit judge. Goodman, a lawyer himself, makes it clear from the start that he's as interested in family issues as crime. That's both one of the novel's strengths and one of its weaknesses: While he makes us care about the likable Davis clan, the murder plot never really breaks a sweat. And Nick is a more convincing dad than hard-charging lawyer.
As well-written as this first novel is, its decidedly lite crime plot disappoints.