Irene Chavez grew up on an island in Puget Sound but left as soon as she could. Now she’s back with her teenaged son, earning her living as the token female detective in a tiny sheriff’s department. When a rich man’s daughter turns up dead in the water, evidence seems to point towards a sailing accident. But Irene’s senses have been tuned by life in Los Angeles. Rich and poor deserve the same true investigation, so she sets out to learn exactly what happened in this well-connected death.
Town and city attitudes provide rich contrasts in Victoria Jenkins’ first Irene Chavez mystery. The highly educated keep their secrets as surely as the teenaged son arrested for possession of drugs. And the light and expanse of an open beach hide a myriad hints and hopes. Rich descriptions bring scents and scenery to life, wind and tide blowing in and out till every shadow proves it has more than one side. The clues to mystery and clues of communication all slip and slide with changes in the light while Irene doggedly investigates and determinedly cares for her son.
The relationship between Irene and her son has just the right measure of silences between words. Her professional life in the sheriff’s department is pleasingly convincing. And a haunting temptation to enjoy a sense of belonging fuels her interactions with the bereaved. Irene feels “blunt and provincial in comparison” with the “smart, educated, psychologically sophisticated people” she investigates, but her eyes are sharp, her senses well-tuned, and her empathy is much stronger than she imagines. Clues stack up slowly, as surely as the tide coming in, and the story pulls the reader through ebbs and flows of revelation and investigation to a nicely surprising conclusion.
An Unattended Death has all the twists and turns of a mystery, the finely measured cadences of a police procedural, and the musical sense of character and place of an intricately haunting drama. Evocative and intriguing, it’s an enticing beginning to what promises to be an enjoyable mystery series.
Disclosure: I received a free bound galley of this novel from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.
Title: An Unattended Death
Author: Victoria Jenkins
Publisher: The Permanent Press
Publication Date: October 2012