This is book one of a series that was originally published between 2013 and 2018. The books are being reissued – it’s always nice to come across another series I’ve not read. For those interested, it’s told in first person by the main character.
Former bigshot Los Angeles prosecutor Cal Claxton quits his job, moves to his cabin in Oregon, and hangs out a shingle as a small, solo legal operation after his wife commits suicide.
A young man appears in his office, asking Cal to find out who murdered his mother, an investigative journalist who was working on a big story. The man is homeless and an artist who goes by the name Picasso on the street. Cal brushes him off and Picasso angrily storms out of his office.
It wouldn’t be a jaded prosecutor finding his heart if Cal doesn’t change his mind, and so he does: he tracks down Picasso at a free clinic in Portland and offers to look into the circumstances surrounding the murder. Picasso has a ready-made villain in his mother’s murder – specifically, he believes that his mother’s boyfriend is the culprit. Cal has to rein him in a bit and caution him to not go after the man when there isn’t enough evidence.
Unfortunately for Picasso,but good for the book, that man is found dead. By Picasso. Cal happens to be arriving at the house just as Picasso is leaving. Did he kill the boyfriend? I’m not giving it away.
Cal has people he can ask for help, including Nando, a Cuban emigre with a fashion sense that sounds like it would have been at home in the 70s (at least in my mind). Nando knows other people who have specialized skills, and al uses Nando a lot – but Nando doesn’t work for free, and those ills start adding up.
Someone really wants to know what Cal is finding (or not) and Cal’s laptop, his own clients’ files, and Picasso’s material that he had entrusted to Cal are stolen. The only thing he now has to go on are some of the notes he made and what he remembers from the files.
There’s a romantic subplot involving the (obviously) super attractive doctor who runs the clinic. There’s also some conflict with a woman who runs an escort service, one of her employees who wants to break free, and a giant Russian dude who doesn’t like Cal all that much.
As Cal works his way through the case, we also get to see through his eyes various social issues: homelessness, inadequate healthcare, drug abuse, indifferent police officers, sex trafficking, a lack of mental health services, especially for veterans, and suicide by cop. Conservatives are not going to like these parts at all, so if you’re in that group, you might want to pass on this one.
Cal also finds that there are multiple divergent paths on this case that dovetail into one by the end of the book.
I have a few issues with the book. One is Cal’s name. Cal Claxton just doesn’t roll off my tongue. Two, virtually every side character Cal encounters is quirky or weird. there are people in the world who are just normal people, working through their days. Three, how is it that Cal always seems to be around when a dead boy is discovered? It’s rather odd, but maybe that’s his quirk.
Three out of five stars.
Thanks to Poisoned Pen Press and NetGalley for the reading copy.