Police detective Darla Cavannah relocated to Jackson, Mississippi, from Philadelphia a few years back when her husband, Hugh “the Glue,” star wide receiver, decided to go back home after his NFL career was cut short. After his untimely death, she decided to take a year off, but one day she gets a call: the Reverend Jimmy Aldridge has been found murdered, his body draped over a cross in front of the local abortion clinic. Her boss, Sheriff Mitchell, wants the case solved and needs Darla’s big-city expertise, but at the same time, he’s up for re-election, and that means her partner on the case is Officer Tommy Reylander, the mayor’s nephew and the city’s best-known Elvis impersonator, AND an upstanding member of Reverend Aldridge’s congregation.
With a setup like that, a lot can go wrong. It’s easy to slide into stereotypes and exaggerations, attitudes and assumptions. But Gusick deftly avoids those, and instead puts together a story that is at times hilarious and at times infuriating but that drew me in and kept me turning the pages. Darla is wonderful as an outsider’s perspective on a Southern town as she navigates all of the land mines during her investigation guided by her roommate, Kendall, whose ex-husband is a political lobbyist who represents the National Rights of the Unborn. Darla is assisted in her investigation by the improbably named Uther Pendragon Johnson, a computer tech who specializes in crime pattern recognition and who is patterned to some extent on Virgil Tibbs.
There is also a hint of romance, and for me that was the weakest element of the book. The character of Stephen Nicoletti, the local ob/gyn who performs terminations, came across to me as a bit of a smarmy jerk, yet the women of Jackson can’t get enough of him. It was hard for me to understand what Darla saw in him, especially under the circumstances—Reverend Aldridge was murdered in front of Nicoletti’s clinic, making Nicoletti the obvious suspect to most of the city’s residents. Still, this was a tautly written thriller, a solid debut, and I’d read more books with Darla Cavannah as the main character.
This ARC was made available by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
My rating: 4 stars