Fresh Meat: Wink of an Eye by Lynn Chandler Willis

Wink of an Eye is the debut mystery by Lynn Chandler Willis about a Los Angeles private eye who returns home to a small town in Texas (available November 18, 2014).

Wink of an Eye is a modern mystery set in the small town of Wink, Texas. That small town life and the integration of a man returning to the town after years of being away is what makes it so special. Lynn Chandler Willis writes an accessible story that involves a private investigator, the relationships he comes home to, and a reintegration to the town he grew up in long ago. Willis’s writing is small town friendly in the best of ways, and that feeling of overall community gives the mystery a feeling of clear familiarity that will have readers engrossed in the world created.

Gypsy Moran, private investigator in Los Angeles, is on the run.  He returns to his hometown of Wink to spend a few weeks with his sister until he can figure out what to do next. His sister, Rhonda, is also concerned about one of her former students, a 12-year-old boy whose father recently passed away from what appeared to be suicide, though the boy and his grandfather seem to have other ideas. Gypsy is used to people entertaining ludicrous thoughts and conspiracies surrounding deaths. But as he hears the case, Gypsy realizes that something is going on in Wink. 

The exploration of the case leads Gypsy to digging around the local Sheriff’s department. Everyone seems to be keeping quiet about the goings on within. For a local institution that is normally all about justice and the truth, the department has something fishy going on. Members in the department are scared of some of the higher-ups.

Gypsy also gets a blast from the past when his ex-girlfriend, Claire, blazes in and asks him out to dinner. Claire is from a rival family and has a husband currently in the city – but she lays eyes on Gypsy once, and it’s like he’s a horny high schooler all over again. His past is coming back to challenge him, and the present is far more concerning than he ever imagined.  Wink is not the safe place where Gypsy had hoped to return. If anything, he ran into more trouble the minute he stepped over the town’s borders.

With a writing style that’s simple and common in its form, Willis makes this mystery stand out with the depiction of Wink as a community. Communities are important in mysteries like this because they create the environment in which the mystery can be enacted. If Wink was relatively large, then many of the issues would be less frightening from the beginning, and the disappearance of multiple girls would be slightly less terrifying with its frequency. Because of the size of the town and the way it appears to be a place that people stick with, readers know immediately that the mystery will be one that drives into relationships and feuds, good blood and bad blood, and every little thing that can go wrong in a town that’s a bit too close for comfort.

We see that familiarity early on. Whenever Gypsy enters Wink, he gives a bit about his backstory in the narration. Willis writes it with a sense of tough family dynamics. Yet, there’s also a sense of rawness as we get the interplay of Gypsy comparing his life to that of the kid that’s asking for his assistance. Gypsy spends the time counting exactly how many times the kid denies that his father committed suicide. It’s an opening scene that speaks to just how intimate the book feels as a result of this town and its close character connections:

I was twelve and Rhonda was ten when our dad left.  I remember Rhonda crying. I remember wrapping my arm around her shoulder, holding back my own tears. I was the big brother. Big brothers don’t cry.

“No aunts or uncles, cousins?” I asked.

He shook his head. “Just me and Dad and Grandpa. Well, me and Grandpa now. But we do okay. I do most of the cooking and cleaning. He does the bills and stuff.”

Ahh. Denial. It’ll get you through for a while. Then one day, your world comes crashing in on you and you wake up wondering why you didn’t see it coming. Been there, done that, and no plans to go again.

“So will you take a look at my Dad’s files? He was on to something. I know he was.”

“I thought you wanted me to look into your Dad’s suicide?”

“It’s all connected. And he didn’t kill himself.”

That was number six. Not that I was counting. 

This kind of storytelling elevates the mystery to a place of intensive emotions while keeping the details sparse. In creating a community where Gypsy can look back on his past and simultaneously connect with individuals to solve a case, characterization gets developed along with the plot. It also becomes a lot harder to ignore. We even see that when Gypsy goes to research and encounters his junior high librarian:

I printed the article and the Letter to the Editor, then put the films back in their proper place. Mrs. Garcia had the pages ready for me at the information desk.

“Not good, Gypsy Moran,” she said as she handed me the copies. “You need to pick something else to look into.” She made a tsk-tsk sound as she glared at me over the top of her glasses.

“This is between me and you, right?”

“Oh, I don’t want to be involved with this and I don’t think you want to, either. Bad stuff, Gypsy. Bad stuff.” 

With care comes caution. Wink of an Eye and its hometown connectivity makes that apparent from the first page. With the way its characters connect in the community and how those connections relate to Gypsy as a character, the mystery’s stakes are raised again and again with personal connections. Wink of an Eye is perfect for readers who want to feel like the world of the book is real; Wink, Texas, comes alive along with Gypsy Moran and has you reading until the case is closed.

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John Jacobson is a college student that likes to get little sleep and advocate for LGBTQ/queer social justice.  If he had spare time, it would always be spent reading or watching nostalgic 90’s cartoons.  He’s a coeditor at Spencer Hill Press and has been a part of the publishing community for over five years.  He also writes for Heroes and Heartbreakers.  You can find him there, on Twitter @DreamingReviews, and occasionally on his personal blog.

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