In Tomei’s debut mystery/thriller, government corruption turns deadly when idealistic young staffers try to solve an embezzlement mystery.
A recent Brown graduate, a Washington, D.C., cop, and a human resources manager join forces to investigate the disappearances of two Department of Education employees and millions of dollars in government grants in this fast-paced but overstuffed debut novel. The book opens with attacks on law enforcement and civilians at the U.S.-Mexico border, but the scene quickly shifts to D.C., where new program officer Chrissy is trying to understand the expenditures of the grants she oversees. The missing funds raise Chrissy’s suspicions, but as soon as she suggests the possibility of wrongdoing, she disappears. Her position is filled by Andy, just out of college and still ruing her lost chance at a hockey career and struggling to understand the secrets of her Ukranian émigré family. Andy follows up on Chrissy’s suspicions and narrowly avoids meeting the same fate. The author has a clear understanding of the ways in which government funding can be misused, and she makes topics like capital expenditures and technical assistance both interesting and understandable to the reader, even if the villains’ motivations seem a bit implausible and their characterizations verge on cartoonish. The quickly moving plot keeps the reader turning pages, eager to see how Andy and her allies will outmaneuver the corrupt bureaucrats, despite the fact that the book’s prose is often awkward (“And on a different front, starting a ‘real-world’ job seemed like slamming a door on her whole previous life”) and elements of the characters’ backgrounds are often unnecessarily repeated. Those backgrounds frequently develop into subplots that have little to do with the main narrative, particularly one involving Andy’s long-absent father, a sudden inheritance and her mother’s icy nature. While the book has its strengths, it lacks the polish and focus needed to be a strong thriller.
A complex debut that offers entertainment despite its narrative shortcomings.