Every Last Secret by Linda Rodriguez, a traditional mystery featuring half-Cherokee campus cop Marquitta “Skeet” Bannion, is the winner of the Malice Domestic Best First Mystery award (available April 24, 2012).
Every Last Secret by Linda Rodriguez is a dark, twisty, turny tale of love, lies, loss, and murder on a quiet college campus. Corruption, fraud, violence, pedophilia, misogyny, blackmail, and murder—Every Last Secret has it all (and then some!). Sounds like a pretty gripping tale, right?
And gripping, it is. But the most compelling thing about Every Last Secret isn’t the plot—it’s the way in which Rodriguez chooses to tell her tale. Every last detail is filtered through the eyes—and the mood—of her main character, Choteau University’s chief of police Marquitta “Skeet” Bannion: every person, every set piece, every action. Rodriguez doesn’t just occasionally state how Skeet feels about an object or a circumstance—she shows you with practically every sentence she writes, the end result being a richness and intensity you might not expect to find in your average mystery or thriller.
This technique can really pack a punch when used to describe a character; the following passage tells us almost as much about Skeet as it does the individual with whom she’s interacting:
Opening the door, I looked down into the narrow face of Carl Haskins, reporter for the Brewster Mercury and stringer for the Kansas City Star. Carl wore his dark hair Julius Caesar-style, including the growing baldness, and his head came only to my shoulders. “Notifying next of kin, are you?” Carl made a note in his slender notebook and tried to step inside.
I blocked his move, stretching my arms across the doorway. “Get out of here, Carl.”
“Hey. Freedom of the press. First Amendment.” His features were too large for his face and appeared scrunched into a permanent scowl. His bulbous nose twitched, and the nostrils flared, as if he could scent the tragedy inside.
But it proves most effective (and, for that matter, affective) when she starts talking place. Rodriguez has a real knack for using descriptions of location to create atmosphere and inform mood. Sometimes it’s quite subtle—just a sentence or two at the start of a scene to set the tone:
Early morning’s clouds had pressed in more densely on the town. The lonely sound of the midmorning train whistle and the threatening sight of the lowering clouds sent my gloomy spirits into the gutter.
Sometimes, however, it’s a recurring theme—a note struck over and over again like a drum beat that serves to ramp up tension:
Rush hour ends earliest downtown. Those who still worked downtown hit their cars and fled for the suburbs if they could afford them, for Westport or south Kansas City if they couldn’t. By six, the streets began to take on the deserted look that was their habitual night face.
Nights were gradually lengthening, but six o’clock was still twilight, deepened by the blanket of clouds threatening rain at any second. I had parked three blocks away, so I marched up Grand, carrying my shoulder purse and the briefcase that held my new evidence, determined to outpace the contents of the looming clouds.
I shivered in the damp, chill air. Fog curled up from the streets between the buildings, and my feet walked through clouds. Turning the corner into a block of boarded-up windows and long-closed buildings, I walked on alert. The last thing I wanted was to tangle with a stupid purse snatcher this evening. I had too many things to do. Drive back home. Contact Gil and Beau Fletcher. Bring in Stuart for questioning. Test his shoes for a footprint match.
The fog in this side street had built up higher than on the broader, more open boulevard. The clouds seemed to lower themselves to meet it, turning the air to mist.
With Every Last Secret, Linda Rodriguez hasn’t just given us a great story—she’s given us the gift of a fully immersive reading experience. And what self-respecting book-lover could say no to an opportunity like that?
Katrina Niidas Holm loves mysteries. She lives in Maine with her husband, fabulously talented pulp writer Chris F. Holm, and a noisy, noisy cat. She writes reviews for The Season E-Zine and The Maine Suspect, and you can find her on Twitter.
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