A taut and intelligent whodunit, Crites’ first book thrives on its grim Northwestern atmosphere and dark contemporary themes.
Grace Vaccaro lives in rural Washington state, where she works as a mental health professional. When local filmmaker Martin Hanish is found murdered, Grace faces several difficult questions: Why was his home ransacked? What did he discover while filming a documentary about local lands? And what secrets are Martin’s friends and colleagues harboring? Crites carefully lays out her clues and relationships, and she even provides a convincing red herring. Most impressively, the author uses her own expertise in mental health to her advantage, probing suspects with the perceptive questions of a skilled therapist. The most vital information is embedded in the world of extreme mental illness, and it’s clear that only Grace can puzzle it out. Crites’ first-person descriptions are rich and believable. “Bob lived in a perfectly preserved old singlewide,” she writes. “I knocked on the aluminum door. The front porch was lined with motorcycle parts organized in neat rows on the Sunday paper. The newsprint had blurred to a uniform gray in the dampness, and rain beaded up on the oily mechanisms.” As the plot unravels, issues of greed and social justice intersect, touching particularly on Washington’s maligned Native American community. When the culprit is unmasked, the scene unfolds naturally, and it’s easy to see how a selfish personality could become a willing murderer. In this gothic environment, Grace’s only fault is her obsessive desire to help people, an impulse that has gotten her physically burned, manipulated, and attacked. Grace continues the tradition of smart professional women becoming accidental gumshoes, and she is a welcome addition to the club. One hopes for a sequel, although a married, mothering, gold-hearted protagonist like Grace could use a few more flaws to round out her character.
A sharply written mystery introducing a new detective with a lot of promise.