Curtin’s second mystery (Artifacts of Death, 2011) is a case of coverups and stolen identities in the deserts of Moab, Utah.
Deputy Sheriff Rivera returns from a camping trip with a body waiting for him—a no-longer-missing retired journalist, February Flanagan, whom someone beat to death three years ago. Rivera’s investigation reveals a good number of suspects but, more significantly, five files on topics that may indicate a motive: illegal immigrants, insurance fraud, a wedding, the health department and a 50-year-old bus accident. Meanwhile, February’s old associate from New York is investigating on his own, and a computer analyst has ties to the murder case. Author Curtin doesn’t dawdle in starting the mystery; it opens with Sheriff Bradshaw staring at skeletal remains. Rivera’s investigation fuels the momentum. The deputy sheriff often reassesses the clues, but the storyline never feels repetitive or tedious as Rivera crafts new theories and fine-tunes old ones. And mysterious elements continually pop up—the computer analyst’s perspective answers only some of the open questions, and ensuing murders puzzle further. The book paints its setting well. Navigating Moab to revisit a crime scene, for example, necessitates a hand-drawn map, and images of the land are poetic: “The sky became a profusion of dark orange, crimson, and every shade of purple.” Understated subplots enhance the narrative—Sheriff Bradshaw’s thoughts often revolve around his cancer-stricken wife. But the limelight, as in the first outing, is on the protagonist; Rivera is a sincere and affable character, a man who, in the course of a murder investigation, looks forward to a simple date on Friday night and finds solace in the warm oatmeal raisin cookies awaiting him on return trips to see February’s widow. His name is likely to acquire fans.
A clear boost of maturity from both the series’ star and the author; readers will be on the lookout for much more of the deputy sheriff.