Poplar Falls: The Death of Charlie Baker
by Pierre C. Arseneault
Artemesia Publishing

"Walter had good days and bad days, but the good days were rare now and getting scarcer as time passed."

Murder in a small town is at the heart of this novel, which combines a mystery with a police procedural and is frequently played for laughs. The local Lothario has been snuffed—apparently in mid-escapade—and there appears to be no shortage of potential perpetrators. As multiple suspects are brought to light, so too are the sexual proclivities of many of the hamlet’s randy inhabitants.

The case is worked by Dodge, an older detective experienced in homicide but relatively new to the town itself. His partner, Tilley, is a younger woman born and raised in the community. In addition to the former’s expertise and the latter’s insight, they are aided in their hunt for the killer by hours and hours of bawdy videotape the victim captured without the knowledge of his various paramours. During the course of their investigation, secrets are spilled about philandering wives, a gay butcher, an alcoholic administrator, a law officer who’s actually a porn addict, a mentally challenged recycler, and even a little old ladies' knitting club that masks a more prurient pursuit.

Arseneault is a clever storyteller who fills his tale with subplots that diverge and frequently intersect as his narrative unwinds. Characters are drawn broadly. Their dialogue and deeds are presented consistently, which makes their motivations easy to understand and accept. While questionable behavior is rampant, the author successfully avoids moral judgments and often laces his prose with tongue-in-cheek quips. This is a relatively lighthearted take on some dark goings-on. As is often the case in this genre, don’t be surprised if you think you’ve put the mystery to bed only to find there are more shoes under it than you realized.

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