“The Broken Saint: Book 3 in the Karen Seagate and Ryan Miner Mysteries” by Mike Markel

This is another entertaining and intriguing investigation in Rawlings, Montana by this very talented author. Rawlings is described by Karen Seagate as “our little city located quite close to the exact geographic center of nowhere in Montana.” It will come as no surprise to fans of this series that human beings in Rawlings display the qualities, eccentricities, strengths, weaknesses and coping strategies of human beings everywhere.

I appreciate the painfully honest, self-deprecating dry humour of Mike Markel’s protagonist, who narrates the story. Detective Karen Seagate is “what they call a recovering alcoholic.” She despises the phrase, although she understands why no one would want to call themselves “a recovered alcoholic. After all, what’s the point of tempting God or Fate or the Boss of All S**t That Happens?” She reminds us of “that old saying, “if you want to hear God laugh, tell him your plans.”

Her partner in criminal detection is a young man with a very different background and very different strengths. Ryan Miner is “a no-kidding-around Mormon who [is] extremely married to an equally serious Mormon who, in their three years of wedded bliss, had already popped out forty percent of their five-kid quota.” Karen, by her own admission, is “fifteen years older than Ryan, and possess[es] not a single one of his virtues.”

Book 3 follows the broad pattern of Books 1 and 2. There’s a murder, and our unlikely team of detectives brings its varied strengths and weaknesses to bear in patiently working its way towards solving it. When reading books in this genre, I find that whoever eventually turns out to be the murderer is almost a side issue. It could plausibly be any of the equally likely suspects. If the author were to change his/her mind half-way through about who actually ‘dun’ it, you wouldn’t know and it wouldn’t matter. What really grabs me as a reader are the insights we glean along the way that exemplify what a flawed creature self-named ‘homo sapiens’ is.

This book tellingly illustrates how each of us suffers or celebrates our way through whatever childhood and adolescence the lottery of life hands out, and then uses those genes and that experience to concoct a range of strategies for dealing with “all s**t that happens”. Mike Markel makes the Seagate and Miner Mysteries journeys worth undertaking for the reader because he understands and constantly illustrates this truth en route to solving the mystery. Therein lies the catharsis.

Here are just a few examples. Harold Breen, the forensic anthropologist in the series, is short and fat – “five seven, three hundred and fifty pounds”. Karen says: “If I was a guy who ate like I used to drink, I’d look just like Harold.” That observations adds so much more depth and potential complexity to Harold’s character, even though he only appears in the story when we need his medical insights following his dissection of the corpse.

The author displays that level of skill and insight throughout the book. It is laced with his dry humour. “the Greenpath was laid out a little straighter, presumably so bikers had a better chance of seeing and therefore not flattening any of the hundreds of doddering old bats out for a walk with Snowball.”

He is capable of creating a powerful impression of a character in a few words: “Amber had a pleasantly Amber-centric view of the world: I don’t need you so go away.” Four or five murders into their partnership, Karen tells us that Ryan is “still optimistic, but experience was coming up fast on the outside.” Of one of their suspects, Karen says: “I’d love to lock up his skinny white ass for twenty-to-life. Keeping his genes out of the pool would be one of the few ways I could think globally, act locally.” Referring to her partner’s certain faith in God, Karen observes: “If he’s all that great and all that good, God could stop being such an underachiever.” It’s a heartfelt cry. “I don’t get any satisfaction out of being a non-believer. Believe me, I don’t. I truly want to believe there’s someone who’s thought this stuff through.”

Detective Seagate wants to be better at solving Rawlings’ murder mysteries than she is at solving the problems that have messed up her life. She labours tirelessly and self-deprecatingly in the cause of truth and justice. A bishop in the Church of Latter Day Saints falls short, and Ryan – a paragon of virtue and integrity – takes more than one hit during this investigation. “The Broken Saint” is an excellent title. In one way or another, it applies to all three of them.