In Kate Flora’s newest police procedural — a Joe Burgess mystery titled “Redemption” — the Portland, Maine, detective exhausts himself seeking clues in the death of his old friend Reggie. Acting on love, loyalty and a cop’s sense of duty and fair play, Burgess puts his job and family at risk to find out what happened to Reggie.
"Redemption," by Kate Flora. Gale publishing. 2012. 366 pages. $25.95.
There’s a lot more to a Kate Flora mystery than “who done it.”
In Flora’s newest police procedural — a Joe Burgess mystery titled “Redemption” — the Portland, Maine, detective exhausts himself seeking clues in the death of his old friend Reggie. Acting on love, loyalty and a cop’s sense of duty and fair play, Burgess puts his job and family at risk to find out what happened to Reggie. Kids found Reggie floating in the harbor in Portland, Maine — a suspicious death from the start. For Burgess, the investigation veers dangerously before it loops back, a full-circle slog that drops him face to face with his own demons.
Burgess and Reggie served together in the Vietnam jungle. Reggie was injured physically and psychologically. But both men swore to watch each other’s backs — in Vietnam and later, back home. Though Reggie went through hard times, including a battle with alcoholism, the two remained close. Reggie was a good man who gave almost everything he had to those even less fortunate than he. When he died, many grieved.
The nice thing about “Redemption” is that every clue is suspect. Flora is the master of the red herring and she’s also a master of the flawed detective. There is no such thing as cut and dried. Clues are tied to people are tied to pathos are tied to past grievances. Every time Burgess learns something that might advance the investigation, that clue reveals 10 more loose ends. In every process, it seems, there is chaos before closure. Flora understands this and gives us a very good read. No wonder that filmmakers eye her stories. Another of her books, the true crime story “Finding Amy,” was filmed for TV and is being considered for a movie.
Flora spends some of her time on the coast of Maine, which explains “Redemption’s” true note sense of place and lifestyle. This story takes place in the fall and Flora makes good use of that sense of transition when people are busy readying for winter. One character exhausts himself chopping wood and his wife, an expert canner, systematically puts up the vegetables. There is a palpable edge to this busy-ness.
For many in “Redemption,” this transition, if not fatal, is life altering. Reggie had some valuable land in a trust and unscrupulous family members decide it is theirs to take. Reggie and his brother Clay had been receiving hate mail from one cousin, a self-described witch. Outrageously, she resorts to poison to express her disdain for Burgess. It would be easy for mystery solvers if she were the only vile character. But there are many.
Besides a host of burning questions and nasty suspects, Burgess has troubles with his girlfriend Chris and one of his officers, an immature and testosterone-blinded man who puts the whole team at risk not once but twice. As the hours tick by and a storm blows in, the entire team must brave muck, dark woods, bullets and high winds to get to the bottom of the troubles. When they emerge filthy, sleepless, bloody and badly bruised, they are wide open for the inevitable emotional and psychological lessons to come. Redemption has arrived.
Rae Padilla Francoeur’s memoir, “Free Fall: A Late-in-Life Love Affair,” is available online or in bookstores. Write her at email@example.com. Or read her blog at http://www.freefallrae.blogspot.com/ or follow her @RaeAF.