New Maine Times Book Review: Redemption - A Joe Burgess Mystery

Posted Wednesday, September 26, 2012 in Culture

New Maine Times Book Review: Redemption - A Joe Burgess Mystery
By Kate Flora.
Five Star, 2012.
366 pages, $25.95.
ISBN 978-1-59415-379-2.
Reviewed by William D. Bushnell
Joe Burgess is a good cop.  As a Portland homicide detective Joe is dedicated to his work, tenacious and thorough, able to instantly spot a lie and dissemble a suspect’s alibi, always following his own advice:  “Never let your assumptions get ahead of the facts.”  And then his Columbus Day holiday weekend picnic plans are interrupted by a case that nearly derails his career and his already shabby personal life, and gets him shot.
REDEMPTION is Maine author Kate Flora’s third excellent mystery featuring Joe Burgess, following PLAYING GOD (2006) and THE ANGEL OF KNOWLTON PARK (2009).  In 2006 Flora also wrote the true crime, non-fiction book, FINDING AMY, about a real Portland murder case.
Flora’s Joe Burgess mysteries are authentic police procedurals (right down to the grisly autopsies and wise-cracking medical examiners), with strong, carefully woven plots, convincing characters, and snappy dialogue, along with loads of suspense, plot twists, and vivid tough-guy action.  And this mystery is the best of the three well-crafted Burgess crime novels.
Joe is beginning to think he may be getting too old for the job.  Pushing fifty, fueled by bourbon and red meat, coffee and donuts, his usually sound judgment and professional investigative skills are being crowded by unhealthy cynicism and a surprising lack of patience dealing with chronic liars, public indifference, and senseless murder.  Fortunately for Joe, the city’s criminal element are afraid of him (and so are many of his fellow police officers), so Joe still has an edge.
When a dead body is discovered in Portland harbor, Joe is called to the scene and is surprised to find that the victim is a long-time friend.  Reggie the Can Man is a harmless Vietnam veteran, sometimes homeless, tormented by his own demons.  Joe has known Reggie since they were in high school and the war together, where Joe saved Reggie’s life in combat.  Joe is also the godfather to Reggie’s worthless, self-indulgent son.
Angry that nobody seems to care about another homeless man’s death, Joe vows to avenge Reggie’s murder, allowing his emotions and personal feelings to interfere with his judgment.  Joe and the two stalwart and equally tough detectives on his investigative team launch an all-out investigation despite whining interference from the police department’s top brass, puzzling clues, a clear and disturbing lack of evidence, and a long and curious suspect list.
When Joe thinks he has found the motive for Reggie’s murder, the case suddenly takes some very bizarre turns.  The clues are right there in front of him, but he and his men cannot seem to tie them together to make sense.  Dogged police investigation, however, reveals a deadly scheme involving wealthy, prominent citizens, Old Port drunks and rowdies, a pair of violent sex freaks, the city’s unfortunate and vulnerable street people, a menacing serial abuser, and a very dangerous, self-proclaimed witch.  And everybody is a conniving liar.
While Joe is trying to figure out how to best squeeze the suspects, he is confronted by a shocking personal revelation that threatens to upset everything he thought he knew about himself, his career, and his future.  Maybe he is getting too old for this job.

This is a complex, but well-drawn mystery, exciting, fast-paced, and very believable as it colorfully portrays the gritty lives of homicide detectives and the grim business of solving murders.  Although this is a novel, Flora has successfully captured the reality of police work and the personal impact it has on the men and women who wear the badge.

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