An epidemiologist’s new retired life in Santa Fe becomes decidedly less leisurely when searching for a neighbor’s missing wife uncovers something potentially lethal.
Dr. Winston Sage and his wife, Julia, have lived in their New Mexico home for a mere two weeks when a neighbor appears at their door asking for help. Bill Harvey’s wife, Jessica, vanished a couple of weeks ago, and the police are stumped. Win, who’d told partygoers of his skill at tracking down cancer patients post-treatment, might be able to find Jessica. But checking hospitals gets him no closer to a solution. Jessica, however, is a dealer in early Chinese ceramics, so Win, a lover of Chinese pottery, has an excuse to peruse the Harveys’ East-West Gallery. He soon learns of Jessica’s Chinese-American mentor, Dr. C.Y. Wong, who’s descended from a family of notable collectors spanning generations. This sparks a few theories from Win. Maybe Jessica’s disappearance is tied to peddling counterfeit merchandise. But Win’s poking around puts him in danger, and the FBI’s subsequent involvement only complicates matters. In Grufferman’s debut, the measured pace sets the tone, especially since his lead, an amateur detective, learns as he goes along. Even Win admits he’s only lucked into certain revelations, but he wisely seeks others’ assistance, from a local retired surgeon to friends in Hong Kong. Some of the narrative is redundant. Characters often recapitulate earlier events and references. Regardless, the protagonist is charmingly unassuming: his bucket-list projects include designing T-shirts; he needs an instruction manual to work his printer/scanner/fax machine; and he may not realize Ann “Honey Chile” Boudreaux is practically throwing herself at him. Though the investigation’s all but evaporated once the feds enter the story, Win and Julia are unmistakably in peril.
Win’s sleuthing is unrefined, but his modesty adds appeal to both the character and this quiet mystery.