“Fractures”: Book 5 in the Karen Seagate and Ryan Miner Mysteries

By Book 5 of this series, Karen has been off the Jack Daniels for more than a year, “with just a couple of blurry days here and there.” She and Ryan have been detective partners for two years, and their characters, as well as the relationship between them, are/is becoming more complex and engrossing. Their very different approaches – as well as their tolerance and appreciation of each other – tell us a lot about how different people handle the pressures of life in the 21st century, and that is as interesting as following their progress through the case they happen to be handling.

Mike Markel’s writing is evocative, excellent, and intriguing. “The movie theatre, its bright bulbs illuminating the lobby posters and the V-shaped white marquee extending out over the sidewalk, offered the only attraction in the frozen purple night.” “Lee Rossman turned left on Harrison and drove slowly toward the grittier section of downtown, where the storefronts cowered behind steel accordion gates.” “What did it mean, Lee Rossman thought, that he was summoned here? At nine-thirty on a Sunday night?”

It isn’t easy to write as well as Mike Markel does. It takes a great deal of research – of places, procedures and terminology – consistently to produce the credible detail that enables the reader to suspend disbelief. It takes empathy, social and psychological awareness, a dry sense of humour and painful honesty. This isn’t simply a murder mystery. It’s a murder mystery that highlights important environmental issues and makes the reader think about the efficacy of different strategies for combatting global pollution “in a conservative state like Montana, where the zeitgeist favors extractive industries.” It’s about fractures on different, complicated levels.

The author doesn’t go for the easy option of each interview or each action on the part of one or other of the detectives yielding a solid clue that enables them to make a brilliant deduction and take a significant stride in solving the crime. This isn’t Holmes and Watson. This is down-to-earth, worldly-wise, dogged, patient, policework: confronting everyone involved, sifting through the maze of fractured lives, half-truths, convincing alibis and almost infinite variety of plausible scenarios in the hope of breaking down someone’s defences. The detectives follow hunches, they lie about what they know or don’t know in the hope of short-circuiting a cumbersome procedure or getting a possible suspect to trust them enough to let their guard down. Following their progress – or lack of it – reminded me of tackling a tough sudoku. For quite some time, there may not apparently be a way forward; and yet you just know that somewhere in that morass of possibilities is one deduction that will enable you to take one or two further steps towards an eventual tipping point, when you have enough information to wrap the situation up in pretty short order.

I read this book almost at a sitting (I was on a long flight from Cancun to Manchester) and was gripped and entertained throughout. I do think that the author began this series well and got better and better.