Monday, November 13, 2017

Desert Remains by Steven Cooper

First Sentence:  Her name is Elizabeth Spears.
The caves in the mountains around Phoenix are known for their petroglyphs, but these are different.  A kill has been carving pictures of his actual murders in each of the caves where the body of a woman is found.  Because the city powers want the case solved immediately, even though there are no clues, Detective Alex Mills calls on the talents of Gus Parker, a psychic he has worked with in the past.  Yet even the images Gus sees don’t seem to relate to these murders.  Or do they?
What an interesting beginning with the gruesomeness of the murder scene, and the bluntness of those at the crime scene contrasted against the beauty of a desert sunset. In the midst of that is an introduction to Det. Alex Mills, which may actually make one smile.  We then meet Gus Parker, a somewhat reluctant medical image technician, and his friend and fellow psychic Beatrice Vossenheimer as the two seek to unmask a fake psychic.  The information involved in their so doing is quite interesting and makes perfect sense.  Cooper establishes credibility for Gus by establishing that he has worked with other law enforcement agencies in the past.  While it is true that they are known to use psychics on occasion, it would have been interesting to learn about the research Cooper undertook about psychics and their role in this milieu.  Unfortunately, that information isn’t provided, even in the author notes.
It is nice to have a protagonist who is married, loves his wife and is faithful, but it is also realistic in that Mills’ home life isn’t idealized.  The situation introduces another plot thread which may seem awkward, and not really necessary.  It is also nice that Mills is a by-the-book cop who not only doesn’t work around the law but doesn’t even bend it.  Gus, too, has issues in his personal life that need addressing.  These aren’t characters who have been prettied up for public consumption.   These are characters who are realistic, including a Sheriff Joe Arpaio-like character. 
Cooper throws in some excellent plot twists.  What’s even more impressive is that he truly takes us along with Gus, with the help of Beatrice, on his search for the suspect.  It’s not a pound-the-pavement search, but one utilizing his research and impressions.  We become as invested as does Gus in truly trying to work things out. 
Once the climax is reached, one realized breadcrumbs had been laid throughout the plot, had we really been paying attention.  Happily, the story is interesting enough that most of us won’t have been.  There are some weaknesses to the writing that may niggle at the back of one’s consciousness, but they are rather like floaters in one’s eye; they’re a bit distracting but don’t destroy the overall enjoyment of the story.
Desert Remains” is Coopers’ first mystery and a very enjoyable read. It will be interesting to watch the series develop.

DESERT REMAINS (Pol Proc-Gus Parker/Alex Mills-Phoenix-Contemp) – G+
      Cooper, Steven – 1st in series
      Seventh Street Books – Oct 2017) 

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