In this mystery sequel, a reporter tries to prove that a suicide—with uncomfortably close ties to her lawyer father—is actually a murder.
Retired politician Buddy McFee is a legendary “fixer.” He uses his legal skills to help people, even with “something a tad shady.” But the Texas attorney is battling dementia, which his reporter daughter, Callie, and his longtime aide have fought to keep secret. Buddy’s latest fix has unforeseen consequences. His client Trevor Birdsong, involved in a DWI, pleads to a felony that costs him his job. Trevor, blaming Buddy for insufficient legal advice, threatens to sue but does something much worse—he kills himself. Now, Buddy fears the suicide will point back to him and ultimately expose his dementia. But if Trevor was murdered, people won’t likely focus on the victim’s lawyer. Buddy enlists Callie and his police homicide detective son, State, to look a little deeper, even to declare the cause of death “undetermined.” It all seems rather dubious until Callie has her aha moment. One clue at the scene is indeed questionable, enough to convince her someone killed Trevor. She quickly locks onto a suspect; all she needs are a motive and hard evidence, the search for which leads her to an obscure film and a possible second murder. Around the same time, Callie further complicates her life when she stumbles on a particularly unsavory skeleton in Buddy’s closet. Digging into her father’s past, along with her amateur murder investigation, puts Callie in the path of a dangerous individual—maybe a person willing to kill to keep her silent.
Conrad’s series protagonist is a believable sleuth. Callie, for example, who previously worked on a murder case in the first installment, investigates crimes using journalistic skills. She does research and utilizes various sources, such as her cop brother and the evidence he’s gathered. The author grounds the hero even further by deftly fusing the murder mystery with relatable family scenes. In one of the best moments, Callie pulls double duty—meticulously examining a key piece of evidence while babysitting State’s twin sons. This sparks an unexpected but amusing turn that ends with the kids’ parents furious at Callie. But as the narrative persistently reminds readers, she’s only human. Callie may frown at the underhanded things her father has done, but she undoubtedly loves and strives to protect Buddy. Similarly, though she went on just one date with Trevor, she initially feels guilt over his supposed suicide, as if she somehow could have prevented it. The memorable supporting cast includes perpetually reluctant-to-help State as well as Callie’s publisher boss and quasi-investigative partner, Oliver Chesney. Conrad, a TV writer and producer, enriches this mystery/thriller with unforgettable morsels of dry humor. Callie, for example, entertains herself at a memorial by “counting man buns and ponytails.” Later, when she asks Oliver for “a minute to think,” he eyes his watch. There’s thorough resolution by the novel’s end, though it does rely heavily on coincidence. Still, the ever resourceful and tenacious Callie rarely misses an opportunity to display her quick-wittedness, as when she uses technology in an unorthodox and clever way.A stellar recurring hero headlines this exciting and convincing whodunit.