A recent widow investigates a murder involving child molestation and the death penalty in this ambitious debut novel.
Morgan Kendall, a part-time librarian, lives in Quarry Canyon, north of San Francisco—a hipper, West Coast equivalent of Murder, She Wrote’s Cabot Cove, Maine. As she deals with her own grief over the recent death of her husband, a young local boy is murdered. A man named Will, long suspected of being a pedophile, is arrested, tried and convicted and sent to San Quentin’s death row. Morgan’s husband, a writer, had been interested in the case, so Morgan begins to investigate both the murder and the events that preceded it, with the assistance of her college-student son and her new love interest, a private investigator. It turns out that the mystery involves some of Quarry Canyon’s most prominent residents. The book’s beginning is a bit slow, including a party scene that perhaps introduces too many characters at once. However, things pick up speed when Morgan shakes off the last vestiges of her depression and begins to interview her friends and neighbors in earnest. Steiger’s dialogue is spot-on; at times it seems as if the reader is eavesdropping on real conversations, as each character has his or her own distinct style of speech. Unfortunately, readers may wonder why Morgan believes Will to be a pedophile based on hearsay and small-town talk, and they may squirm at her easy acceptance of another, villainous character’s behavior. The author is very effective at dropping hints throughout the story, and at setting up the mystery’s resolution. Although not every character is as fully developed as readers might wish, Steiger plans to return with more stories of Morgan and the people of Quarry Canyon in the future.
A strong beginning for a new mystery series.