Brown (The Social Sex, 2015, etc.) offers a thrilling crime novel about a real estate agent trying to sell an inn that’s surrounded by conflict, intrigue, and murder.
Sara McGrath is a divorced mother of a 16-year-old daughter and struggling as a real estate agent. She’s about to get her big break from the sale of the titular hotel at Punta de Sangre (on the San Mateo County, California, coast) to the exuberant, wealthy Randi Wight. Brown wastes no time diving into the crime that drives this story: it opens on Sara traipsing along the beach, collecting seaweed, when she comes upon the washed-up, mangled body of a young man. He turns out to be the son of Lt. Mike Mitchell, a police officer to whom Sara is attracted, and who reappears during moments when she needs him. However, the deaths don’t stop there. Soon, Sherwood Brooks, a researcher who gives Sara tips on properties, winds up dead on the train tracks. It looks like a suicide, but upon further inspection, it turns out that Brooks was strangled. The story gets even more complicated when a developer shows interest in the land. Sara’s good friend Faye, meanwhile, is an active, vocal member of Coastal Open Space Trust, an organization aimed at preserving area wildlife. COST, it turns out, is strangely connected to the inn, and quickly comes under threat. Someone wants Sara and her friends to stay away—but who? Brown not only develops several engaging characters and a riveting plotline, she also shows expertise at describing settings. The vivid geography of the coast (with its “frothy surf, stark white against the gray ocean”) transports readers into Brown’s richly imagined world. The protagonist, Sara, is complex, flawed, and genuine, and readers will hope that Brown will revisit the character in future novels. Several other players also become entangled in this tale—including a competing real estate agent; the current owner of the inn and his cancer-stricken wife; and Sara’s arrogant ex-husband—and all have back stories worth uncovering.
A satisfying crime read with a memorable heroine.