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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Review - Listen to the Dead

We are well into autumn now, but let's take a trip to Massachusetts for springtime in this atmospheric tale of a cold case that dredges up a lot of buried secrets.   I somehow got wind of this book and it sounded intriguing - so I just had to check it out.  It is a police procedural, and true to this type of novel it is a bit rougher in attitude by nature.  See what you think from the review. 
Author: Randall Peffer

Copyright: August 2010 (Tyrus Books) 350 pgs

Series: # 5 in Cape Island Mysteries

Sensuality: Adult Material, language

Mystery sub-genre: Police Procedural

Main Character:  Single mon and Detective Yemanja Colon

Setting: Modern day Cape Island Massachusetts

Obtained book through: Publisher for an honest review

Bird Island is just beginning to thaw from the piles of snow and ice which subsequently uncover the corpse of a 1980s murder.  Is this young girl, shackled and buried alive another of the New Bedford serial killings that took place back in the 80s or unrelated?  Who was this girl with the flowing long red hair?  Detective Yemanja Colon is put in charge of the investigation of this very cold case.  Even the harbormaster who tends the lighthouse on Bird Island has something to hide and nobody is coming forward with information.  Yemanja likens it to a dentist literally strapping a patient down and having to pull teeth.
"Corby Church is waiting for you with his boar.  And Hank Cabot from the archeological society.  They think this is some kind of old grave that the ice floes have opened up."

He tells her to go on out there to Bird Island.  Do her thing with Corby's bones.  Get something that will help to figure out who's buried out there.  But try to be back here by mid-afternoon.  Chi Chi needs her working on the B&E they had out on Neck Road yesterday.  Property owners are bat shit.

"Just cover your bases.  Leave the rest for the archeologist types." 

"He said there were maybe handcuffs, manacles, he called them, on the body.  What's with that?  Probably not death by natural causes.  You think I'm going to  give a soft touch to a murder investigation?"  She tilts her head back, uses a hand to flick her long, dark hair out of her eyes, continues to hold her boss in her sights.  Never blinking.  She's thirty-five, but looks ten years younger.  A babe in cheap charcoal pants suit.  A whole heap of attitude.
Yemanja's grandmother practices Santeria and is apprenticing Yemanja into the ways, which adds plenty of atmosphere.  The murdered girl, "Princess" starts to literally haunt Yemanja and intrude on her thoughts, providing flashes of what led up to her murder, all sketchy and laced with promiscuity and drugs.  Princess was a tragically lost soul who fights to regain her dream of ice skating competitions but seems unable to overcome her cocaine habit and her resulting willingness to do pretty much anything to fund the habit.  Yemanja is also haunted by her own demons throughout the story from her past.

It doesn't help when Yemanja gets personally involved with the harbormaster hiding his own secrets.  As the story unfolds even influential and connected attorneys and wealthy socialites are dragged into the investigation.  Is Princess's murder connected to a 1980s several-month-long drug run from the Bahamas to New England that Princess was the cook for (and other locals including the harbormaster were part of) or was she simply one of the victim's of the New Bedford serial killer?   The New Bedford Serial Killings are a true crime case (nine women's bodies were found alongside Southeastern Massachusetts highways between July 1988 and April 1989) that remains unsolved and an open investigation to this day. 

This is definitely for mature readers, but don't take that to mean it contains "R" rated scenes just for sensationalism without a point.  Everything is pertinent to this tragic girl's life and murder.  If anything it brings compassion to just how sad these lost-souls-to-drugs are and puts a pathetic face to the murder victim.  It is interesting to note that Bird Island and Buzzard Bay (as well as New Bedford) where this novel takes place do really exist and the book seems to faithfully portray them.  These locations provide a lush atmospheric setting for this tale.

Character development is done very well.  The character of Yemanja is complex and even a touch volatile.  She is not the sort of character most will want to become friends with or hang out with, but she is compelling as she attempts to wade through the quagmire of the case.  The character of the harbormaster (Corby Church) is prominent in the story with many scenes from his point of view and flashbacks of his recollections of the drug run from Bahamas to New England and the deceased girl.  His character is only slightly easier to relate to as his own shortcomings become evident.  He has a reputation as a "player" and did the crazy scene plenty, but how much has he grown up from all that is doled out in small doses leaving the reader always wondering about him.  Yemanja's boss is the kind of boss you love to hate, sexist and prejudice.  Yemanja gets assigned a partner that is a good leveling influence on her .  The character of "Princess", the murder victim, is expertly drawn as well.

The plot is well thought out and executed with precision.  This novel many not be for everyone with its "mature audience" rating, but it is actually a well done story that keeps you puzzling and wanting to figure out who the killer really is.  The subject matter of "Princess's" life and death is dark but overall I didn't feel the story dragged me down into the pit with Princess - which I feel is an important point.  The climax is suspenseful and the wrap-up I appreciated. 
If I had one thing I would have changed would be the mingling of Yemanja's personal demons with the case.  In those instances I began to feel bogged down with hopelessness.  Thankfully those moments weren't prevalent.

If you like well written grittier police procedurals, this book should be to your liking.   

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