Dying Echo by Judy Clemens, the fourth installment in the Grim Reaper Series, is a crime novel that’s both humorous and heartbreaking (available August 7, 2012).
It’s been years since Casey Maldonado visited her hometown, and the only reason she’s returning now is to get her brother Ricky out of jail, where he sits after being arrested for the brutal murder of Alicia McManus, his girlfriend of several months. Casey believes in her brother’s innocence, but proving that to the cops is a different thing altogether, especially since she has her own murder warrant to worry about. Perhaps even more frightening than the law is Casey’s confrontation with her personal demons—the home she shared with her late husband and son, the resentment of her mother, and even the presence of Eric, who wants to be more than just a friend.
Alicia is, or rather was, as mysterious as they come. She showed up out of the blue in a small town in Colorado, where most of the action takes place, and managed to get a job as a waitress and to rent a house without too much trouble. She didn’t really like her job, but it was better than no job at all.
Alicia McManus made seventeen dollars and thirty-three cents in tips on the day she died. Ten hours on her feet, four of them because Bailey, the other waitress, had called in sick, even though everybody knew she was just hungover. Alicia normally wouldn’t have minded, but lunch and dinner were both slower than a glacier, maybe because it was Thursday, maybe just because the food at the restaurant wasn’t anything to get excited about.
If her day was hell, well, the night would first lead her to heaven, in the warm embrace of her boyfriend Ricky, and then back to hell, this time for good. And that’s exactly when we meet Casey, a woman who seems to have a death wish, but also a woman with a mission.
Casey has to prove that her brother is innocent, but since she doesn’t trust the police she feels that she has to take matters into her own hands. So she starts investigating, with her best friend, if one could call him so, tailing her. He has no real name, yet everybody knows him; he’s a man of mystery and someone who speaks his mind; and he’s scary and hilarious as hell. He can joke about almost anything and he knows more than everyone else.
Casey and he are quite the team, he gives her hints and some info and then she uses her restless intellect and her stamina to carry her through the investigation. First of all she has to find out more about the victim, whom she knows only from some photos.
She looked pleasant enough. And pretty. She was smiling, but Casey recognized something in her eyes—a haunted shadow, telling a deeper story of the woman’s life. Casey was surprised to see that Alicia looked older than Ricky by several years. But again, maybe that was her experience showing through. Some past hurt or brokenness that colored her, even when she thought she could be happy.
Was she a hunted woman or a haunted one? Could she be a little bit like Casey in a way?
The passing time and the facts will show that the answers Casey seeks are not to be found in her little town, but in another one, far and away. So she hops on a plane, along with a new friend, Eric, and they head there in order to solve the mystery.
During their long journey and concurrent investigation into the past life of the victim, Casey will start to change. It’s as if this hard case strengthens her will to live; it seems she can no longer see everything in black and white. Her inner demons are still there, with her, following her every step of the way, but somehow every now and then, and for the first time in years, she manages to appease them.
She is an angry woman who’s struggling to be calm, and she’s a tough cookie. She can face any man and beat him to the ground, but that doesn’t mean that she likes it or doesn’t regret it when she has to use violence. Her fury is a given, but that’s also the case with her irony: “Nothing like examining a murder scene and dealing with three frat boys to work up an appetite.” At the same time though she’s someone who cares deeply about family and friends, and, once someone gets on her good side, he always stays there.
But could someone ever really do that? That’s the big question. Casey’s psychological armor may have cracked a bit, but it will be prove hard to break. She has been building it for years and it will take much more than an act of goodness to let her defenses down.
If Casey could only crack a smile; if she could love and allow herself to be loved again; then there’d be definitely light.
The author does a great job with the plot and yet a better one with her characters. They are all flawed, damaged, and most of them have something to hide. Their inner darkness though doesn’t seem to affect much of the outer world she describes; and there are so many laugh-out-loud moments that the dark subject matter of the story and the bleak lives of the people who inhabit it, are often illuminated in blissful colors.
Lakis Fourouklas has published four novels and three short-story collections in Greek. He’s currently translating his work into English and blogs at Fiction & More. He also keeps a few blogs in Greek regarding general fiction, Japanese literature, and crime fiction. Follow him on Twitter: @lakisf. He lives in the wilderness of Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Read all posts by Lakis Fourouklas for Criminal Element.