Murder Finds A Home
by Winnfred Smith
Westwood Books Publishing

"Pulling my .38 special from the glove compartment, I ran to the house, slowing at the porch to get a quick look inside. And there they were."

There are all sorts of variations of the mystery genre these days. The detective novel takes multiple forms, as well. Author Smith’s tale falls somewhere in between what might be called a cozy mystery and a comfortable hero. It could be classified as a cozy because this mystery does not rely on the shopworn elements of gratuitous violence or brutality, particularly explicit sex, or an ongoing fusillade of profanity and vulgarity. It could also be seen as a comfortable hero tale because the protagonist is not the prototypical burned-out ex-cop who continually sees the world through the bottom of a whiskey glass and spouts cynical metaphors in virtually every paragraph. This hero is actually a successful businessman, quite likable, and exceptionally skilled at unraveling complicated situations. He’s a good guy’s good guy.

The yarn takes off quickly when the hero, Stone, is requested by an old friend to come to California and help with a murder investigation that the friend thinks is being paid scant attention to by the local police. Stone makes arrangements to have his computer business handled during his absence and quickly hops a flight to the West Coast. On the trip over, his generosity and friendliness put him in contact with a young college girl who will wind up involving Stone in a second dilemma once he reaches his destination.

The friend who contacted Stone is a well-healed investor who also participates in the world of exotic stamp collecting. A man who believes in giving back as much as taking, he oversees a homeless shelter where one of his employees was murdered. The girl Stone befriends on the plane is much further removed from the economic strata the philatelist is in, but a blackmail attempt on her father becomes something Stone can’t turn away from.

The two plotlines begin to play out in parallel. One will be solved before the other and has its engaging dénouement with Stone conducting an intriguing Hercule Poirot summation of the crime and its surprising motive. The other takes a bit longer to unravel and includes multiple characters and suspects, a romantic liaison, colliding personal relationships, and a chilling look at what some of the most fortunate in society are willing to do about some of the least fortunate.

Smith maintains a relatively breezy tone throughout his narrative. Humor is never far from the surface, even as suspense mounts. Were this a film, rather than a novel, it would probably get a PG-13 rating as the author is able to tell his tale of blackmail, murder, and more without relying on an overabundance of salty language, an over-dependence on titillation, or an over-reliance of cliffhangers. Smith makes his protagonist the sort of hero (and his adventure the kind of story) one actually has fun sharing pages with.

Mystery and detective story readers will likely also enjoy the author’s references to famous sleuths from past literature, movies, radio, and television. This roll call of classic characters helps reinforce Stone as one who relies as much on brain as brawn, is tough but fair, and who never strays very far from his moral compass. All in all, it is not a bad crime-stopper with which to spend a few hours in this day and time.

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