Buddy Steel, who has relocated from LA to the small town of Freedom to take over the Sheriff reins from his father – who has been recently diagnosed with ALS -finds himself investigating the apparent disappearance of the wife of a well known and well liked local preacher of a megachurch.
This is listed as “Buddy Steel #1”, and is the first in a series for Brandman, who some people may know picked up Robert Parker’s Jesse Stone novels after Parker died, and who has also written some of the Jesse Stone movies.
Unfortunately, Buddy Steel reminds me a ton of Jesse Stone (for those who have not read those books, Stone relocates from LA to the small town of Paradise, although on the other side of the coast, has loads of sarcastic dialogue, doesn’t like wearing his uniform, beds the local ladies, etc.). Steel is sardonic, doesn’t like wearing his uniform, doesn’t waste time falling into bed with a woman with whom he comes into contact due to an investigation, and so on.
In Steel’s case, the woman part of that equation is the sister of the preacher – and Brandman has tried a bit too hard to make the woman quirky (she has a quirky blog, wears quirky clothes, etc.). He wears civilian clothes and often does not identify himself as he wanders in and out of areas like the living quarters of the family at their megachurch location. The dialogue is also trying to hard to make Buddy seem sarcastic and/or humorous, and it sometimes misses the mark.
The story is fairly straightforward, although in some cases stretches the limits of suspension of disbelief. The housekeeper for the Long family reports Catharine Long as missing, and further says Preacher Long is acting oddly about it. She’s in fear for her life, because of course the Longs run everything in town, so she reports it to Steel, then vanishes, never to be heard from again.
Steel doesn’t care where he has to go or who he might offend, and starts poking around. Various people declare that Catherine is fine, the Long family attorneys threaten to sue, there’s a subplot involving another Long brother of being in cahoots with a local gang, as well as a Ponzi scheme, and the entire thing reads like an episode of American Greed, as if various elements were pulled out, tossed together, and this is what the end result is.
It’s a very fast read, but reads more like something written for TV than something written for a novel. In some places, descriptions are scarce. In others, it’s hard to track who is saying what in the dialogue – even though I am a firm believer in using as few dialogue tags as possible, I think there needs to be *something* in place every so often so the reader doesn’t have to backtrack to match up dialogue. This is made particularly difficult when it’s anyone but Steel and the quirky sister talking (although I counted one 19-exchange instance between the two of them that had no attribution beyond Steel beginning the exchange) as everyone in the department seems to have the same sardonic tone and is trying to be funny. This sort of thing is fine for TV, since there will be bother visual cues and the actors’ voices won’t be the same, but can make for some difficult novel reading.
The book (originally released in 2017) sets itself up well for further books in the series, as evidenced by the three books that followed this one. In a rare twist for me and ARCs, this is the first book I’ve read in a series new to me, versus the nth. I’m not quite sure if I’ll read the books that follow (although who am I kidding, I have some weird compulsion to read all the books in a series).
Overall, a fast read with a decent enough mystery at its heart.
Three stars out of five.
Thanks to Poisoned Penn Press an NetGalley for the review copy.