Sex, murder and a runaway case of psychic ability combine to complicate the life of a hapless photographer in Scott’s debut entry of a planned mystery series.
Shifting between multiple viewpoints and timelines, the narrative’s main thrust follows Phoenix photographer Lance Underphal, a 57-year-old man barely eking out a living taking crime scene photos for a local newspaper. A former electrical contractor, Underphal is still reeling from hard times that left him broke, a widower and, worst of all, haunted by his wife’s voice. As he struggles to make sense of the clairvoyant flashes that leave him increasingly haggard and unable to function, his reporter boss, Lacey Friends, is growing close to homicide detective Frank Salmon. Despite poor first impressions, Underphal is soon providing information to Salmon, who uses it to make headway in his investigation of a developer’s violent murder. However, the violence spreads, and not even Underphal’s ability to see the dead can keep up with the spiraling darkness that surrounds the first—but nowhere near the last—killing. As promised in the novel’s disclaimer, there’s copious sex and violence throughout the book, but Scott treats it as part of the story, for the most part avoiding gratuitous mentions to concentrate on advancing the plot. The numerous shifts in time and perspective can be disconcerting at first; however, readers familiar with nonlinear storylines will have no trouble, especially after the first few chapters, when the narrative develops a rhythm that helps anchor the reader. Scott handles the primary character voices with confidence, and he uses the Phoenix geography to good effect in establishing the tone and setting. But not all aspects of the book work as well: The female characters are almost invariably thin in description, virtually all of them described in terms of sexual attractiveness, which doesn’t help develop them as people. Furthermore, much of the dialogue and physical descriptions go on for several beats longer than necessary, seemingly undermining the author’s trust in the readers to understand what he’s saying. Overall, however, Scott crafts an intriguing hook and a sympathetic protagonist in a world that, while seemingly depraved and dark, is clearly recognizable and believable.
A well-built mystery that’s stronger than its flaws.