Catherine O’Brien and her partner, Louise, are homicide detectives with the St. Paul, Minnesota police department. As the story begins, Nathan Stanley has been found murdered on the front porch of his opulent home. He just happens to one of the chief of police’s friends, so Catherine and Louise are directed to solve the crime and make an arrest within the next two days. That means that they will undoubtedly be working around-the-clock, placing additional strain upon Catherine’s already-rocky marriage to Gavin, a contractor. Catherine and Gavin’s love for each other is not in question, but Gavin would like to spend time with his workaholic wife every once in a while.
The detectives begin their investigation at Stanley and Forster, interviewing the victim’s partner. But soon they have a daunting list of Stanley’s known enemies, another murder to solve, and a list of suspects that include Stanley’s ex-wife, his mistress’s husband, a couple of his trusted employees, and even their own boss, the chief of police! An unusual murder weapon and fibers from something every Minnesotan needs — a pair of Alpaca wool mittens — send them scurrying for additional clues. But can they find the killers in the time allotted them by the chief without having to arrest him? Can Catherine’s marriage to Gavin survive yet another separation? And will she come home safely at the conclusion of this investigation?
First-time novelist Stacy Verdick Case has launched her career with an ambitious crime tale, the first in the Catherine O’Brien mystery series. It will be followed up by Murder is a Family Affair.
A Grand Hotel introduces readers to Case’s Cagney and Lacey-esque pair of detectives. One is stylish, the other perpetually spills food on the front of her clothing, causing her husband to remark that if she doesn’t have stains on her blouse, she couldn’t have eaten. One never has a hair out of place, while the other scrounges for a rubber ponytail holder just to tame her. One is a crazy, but very lucky driver, while the other holds on for dear life. They trade barbs about just about everything, including Catherine’s love of all things Star Trek, while Louise accidentally reveals that she is Highlander enthusiast. Their charmingly antagonistic repartee is the highlight of the book.
Equally beguiling is Catherine and Gavin’s relationship. They are plainly crazy about each other, despite the pressures of Catherine’s nonstop, dangerous career and refusal to take a vacation with Gavin. He is long-suffering, to be sure, especially in light of Catherine’s track record for work-related injuries, but construction work holds its own dangers, as Catherine reminds him when he pressures her to consider a desk job with the force.
While Case’s leading characters sparkle, the book would be more satisfying if the characters were more fully developed and additional details concerning their histories revealed. The same can be said about the group of supporting players comprised of the murder victims, their employees, and the women with whom they are entangled, all of whom could engender more interest and concern from readers if more were known about them. Case injects some innovative elements into a tried-and-true plot, even though omitted or inaccurate details pertaining to law enforcement and crime scene procedures will rankle mystery aficionados and purists.
Case keeps the action moving and A Grand Murder is a quick read, enjoyable for its witty dialogue and likable protagonist. Overall, it constitutes a promising beginning to Case’s fiction-writing career and spurs hope that the second installment in the series will be an even stronger effort.