RogerBW's Blog

Coyote, Linda Barnes 25 May 2020

1990 mystery, third in the Carlotta Carlyle series (neo-noir private investigation). A hispanic woman asks Carlotta to retrieve her missing green card, because she doesn't trust La Migra. But then she vanishes, and the card turns up on the body of a murdered woman…

Things rapidly become complicated, and nobody's quite what they appear to be – for a start, the hands of the victim have been removed, and her face disfigured, which makes proving identity distinctly challenging. Deliberately? Or is it part of the killer's personal mythology?

Carlotta's "little sister" Paolina (because of a role-model program when she was still a cop) has a bigger role in this than in the previous stories, and the relationship is portrayed very effectively: prickly on both sides, but genuinely affectionate. So also with Carlotta's friend Mooney, still on the force: they're both awkward enough that they can't actually act friendly, but then there's the occasional perfect paragraph:

Mooney opened his mouth to argue. He can't help it. He's Boston Irish, born and bred, and instinct tells him to get the women and children to shelter. He opened his mouth, glared at me, and silently closed his mouth again. Bless him for that.

It's a short book, and some of the twists are rather too predictable; but it doesn't make the mistake of painting the underdogs as universally perfect, and even the villains feel more or less like plausible people. This and Muller's Sharon McCone series are working well for me in a way that Sue Grafton's Kinsey Millhone books didn't, and I think in both cases it's because their leads are sufficiently distinctive that they don't try to say things about the investigative heroine in the general case; rather, being female is just one of the things that make up their leads' personalities.

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Previous in series: The Snake Tattoo | Series: Carlotta Carlyle | Next in series: Steel Guitar

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