by Michael Malone
In Hillston, North Carolina, Justin Savile, police detective, dipsomaniac, and black sheep of the ruling plutocracy of the town, partners with fast-talking, lower-class Cuddy Mangum to investigate the beating death of the wife of a state senator (his uncle). A petty thief is found with her stolen silver, but it doesn’t add up, and Justin starts uncovering some secrets that the family would rather keep hidden.
Written in a playful, stylish, literate tone, this is a delightful mystery, an actual whodunit with tight plotting, lots of red herrings and convoluted suspense. But it’s also a sophisticated romance, a character study, an evocation of old-money southern mores, and a comedy in the style of the fast-talking, quick-witted films of the ‘40s. Although a slightly jarring note, to me at least, rang in Cuddy, who is presented as a hulking blue-collar vet and auto-didact, but who talks in a never-ending spout of aphorisms, highly erudite references, and puns, like a straight Oscar Wilde. I suppose there are all kinds in every walk of life, but it struck me as a bit off given his background. Self-taught and disarmingly smart, certainly, but a blatherer? It seems off-type. That aside, this book is a rarity: a smart, engaging police procedural that also delves successfully into the wider world of love and the meaning of life.