Now that Buddy Steel, late of the LAPD, has come back to his hometown (Missing Persons, 2017), his second case takes him back to school.
Officially, Buddy is the deputy sheriff of San Remo County. But everyone knows the real reason he’s returned to Freedom, California, is to take care of his father, Sheriff Burton Steel Sr., who’s been stricken with ALS, and to help the old man kill himself when life gets to be too tough to bear—a bargain Buddy’s loath to keep. Fortunately, another fatality provides a welcome distraction: Hank Carson, assistant principal of Freedom High School, gets stabbed to death in his office. Who would have taken a steak knife to such a wonderful guy, an educator who principal Julia Peterson assures Buddy was doing a great job since arriving last year, a mentor who’d done his best to get close to every student in the school? Once Hank’s widow, Kimber, hops on a plane to her parents’ house in New Jersey before anyone from the sheriff’s department can even sit down with her, she looks like the obvious suspect. But Buddy, who retrieves her and spirits her back to Freedom before you can say “red herring,” can’t believe she would have killed her husband or anybody else and reacts to her repeated come-ons with all the savvy of a blushing high school kid. Since Buddy’s also faced with the case of a particularly self-promotional graffiti artist, it looks like Hank’s murder will remain a mystery—unless of course he turns out to have been guarding a secret worth killing for, a secret so sordid that it makes three different suspects admit that they wish they’d been the ones who’d stuck in the knife.
A modest, guileless, by-the-numbers whodunit with no more mysteries, twists, or surprises than the typical homecoming parade.