Next of Kin: A Death Valley Mystery
by Melissa M. Garcia

"Stellar scanned the article. A man had apparently sent in a letter to the paper, claiming responsibility for both of the recent murders. He wrote that the men had been known to the community as abusers and needed to be removed from his peaceful city. The supposed killer signed his letter The Coyote."

This is the second book in the Death Valley Mysteries, although it is also works as a stand-alone novel. In 205 pages, the book offers numerous mysteries within the main story. Homicide Detective Stellar has his hands full with all the suspects regarding the murders in his town. Stellar also struggles with personal issues including the arrest and incarceration of his brother on drug charges, his on-and-off relationship with a news reporter named Erika, and the possibility of corruption within his own Police Department. Included is the story of Alex, a murderer who has completed her prison sentence, and her brother Ric, her protector and a former police officer who has disappeared without explanation. Add to this concoction are reports of prostitution, financial malfeasance, blackmail, abuse, police cover-ups, a disemboweled goat, and the usual family dysfunctions, this makes for a read that shouldn't be missed. The ending is fascinating in its own right, but also leads the reader wanting more from the next book in the series.

This is a mystery to enjoy. It will engage the reader with a lot of bodies, both living and dead, who offer a quandary of clues regarding the deaths. The characters are believable with their own follies and dysfunctional behaviors, and the dead tell no lies if only the real perpetrators can be found. The relationship that Detective Stellar has with the newspaper reporter has been a technique utilized by other authors, but this is not a stale look into these complications and has the reader looking at professional ethics for them—not to mention the questionable ethics of the Chief of Police and other police officers. Also, while the reporting on the status of the bodies is vivid, it is not infused with too much gore which can often take away from good writing. Not the deepest of mysteries, but a good book, written competently, and easy-to-follow, yet a story that cannot be easily decoded until the very end when the author ties up the loose ends. It will keep the reader guessing, which is the best quality of a mystery novel.

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