The promising kickoff to Pawlish’s comic mystery series, starring far-from-perfect PI Reed Ferguson.
The story starts on a somewhat rough note, with the oft-parodied moment in any noir detective story when a beautiful woman walks into the office and tells a suspicious story about why she needs help—she thinks her husband’s dead and wants to find him. From the beginning, Pawlish works hard to establish the comic tone in Ferguson’s first-person voice, which, in addition to the disingenuous ingénue, Amanda Ghering, keeps the opening scene from becoming too familiar. Fortunately, Pawlish’s light touch for comedy doesn’t get in the way of the mystery. It turns out that Ferguson, a trust-fund kid trying to establish his independence, has never worked a case. He’s a big fan of noir films, though, and references them constantly. Pawlish relies on those references too much at first, but once the story gets rolling and Ferguson is fleshed out, they become a natural part of his thought process, illustrating his novice status in an entertaining way. Pawlish also earns high marks for plot construction, with twists and turns naturally unfolding as Ferguson, inexperienced but not incapable, feels his way through the case. There’s one notable exception in the climax, however, when a character suddenly appears out of the blue, though it doesn’t sink the story. Pawlish has a good eye for the smaller details, and she’s built a fantastic cast of supporting characters—including Ferguson’s goofy neighbors and especially his computer expert friend Cal—that’ll give readers something to look forward to in future installments of the series. In a nifty bit of worldbuilding, the characters, who never feel tacked on, each help reveal some aspect of Ferguson’s personality while filling out the story. Even the regular phone calls from his mother don’t interrupt the story’s flow.
A promising start to a good-humored mystery series worth following.