This is the first of a series of New Mexico Mystery features. In true New Mexico fashion, I don’t have schedule, but will post these at random intervals when I find the right books. (If I find a NM book I don’t like, it won’t be featured here, though I may review it elsewhere.) I’ll be following each review with an author interview a week later. The Land of Enchantment is a diverse place, and I hope to share a wide range of stories that highlight its many faces.
Equal parts mystery and romance, Deadly Recall by Donnell Ann Bell is tightly plotted and suspenseful, and has intriguing three-dimensional characters. With the male lead being a police detective and the female lead a defense attorney, conflict is natural to the plot and situation. (I found this to be a refreshing change after reading a number of romances in which the conflict felt contrived.) Kevin and Eden have a delightful and believable first encounter that sets both the love plot and their interwoven roles in the mystery plot in motion. Their attraction to each other is portrayed with depth, and their relationship in progress is often charming. Bell has a knack for witty, natural banter between lovers and friends. Eden occasionally makes decisions which made me want to shake her but I could see that was her nature, not a plot contrivance. It made me empathize with Kevin.
The book is set in Albuquerque, showing the city that its residents see. While in some ways the protagonists could be from anywhere, their homes or hobbies have local flair. Eden’s loft near Old Town felt like a real part of the city, and I liked the very Albuquerque detail that Kevin is part-owner of a hot-air balloon. A number of the supporting characters feel like part of the local scene, people who put the quirky in Albuquerque, such as Eden’s client the vegan, tattooed housepainter-and-artist, and her neighbor Mr. Lucero, who thinks his cat is the reincarnation of General MacArthur. The behavior of the chatty, nosy, Chinese food delivery guy struck me as typical of the way people in NM talk to strangers. All of the minor and secondary characters have personalities, even if they are only onstage for a cameo.
The author’s style is sometimes so original and well phrased that I wanted to applaud while reading. Once in a while the wording seems a little hasty or not quite polished, but not often. As a reader who loves the craft of writing, I spent far more time in a state of admiration than I did getting in touch with my inner editor.
The clues and red herrings kept me guessing and thinking in step with the characters as they worked through the layers of mystery. Some romances make it seem as if love is the end of the story. I liked the way this book kept going a little further. Not only the love story and the mystery plot are wrapped up (without a single cliché for wrapping), but also Eden’s inner experience, her rediscovery.
I look forward to reading more of this author’s work. Even if it’s not set in New Mexico.