Fans of Penny Mickelbury’s detective fiction will not be disappointed in her latest novel. Death’s Echoes marks the return of two favorite characters from her early work, Police Lt. Gianna Maglione and investigative reporter, Mimi Patterson, who is her professional confidante and lover.
Over the years, Mickelbury has demonstrated remarkable capability in a large body of work that includes short stories, a literary novel, several plays and yeoman’s work on at least one major movie script. But she is perhaps best known for her detective novels and deservedly so.
Whether her protagonist is a lawyer or cop, gay, lesbian, or straight, Latino, Italian or African-American, she fashions them with care and a deep understanding of what makes them tick.
In the current novel, Maglione and Patterson are no less likable and believable. They have moved on in years. They know more. And they are perhaps more vulnerable than in previous books.
It’s worth noting that Mickelbury cut her teeth as an investigative journalist in Washington, D.C. Her knowledge of the city and the inner workings of a major daily newspaper fuel this novel with verisimilitude.
The narrative moves along at breakneck speed under the sure hand of a seasoned writer at the top of her game. Prime-time TV has finally come up with an openly gay police chief in the recently saved Brooklyn 9-9, but Mickelbury has been writing about openly gay characters in leadership roles for years. In this, she has been ahead of her time. Maybe the times have finally caught up to her.
Just as late-night talk-show hosts have found fodder for comedy in the current White House and the unseemly American underbelly released by its rhetoric, so Mickelbury has taken on the task of mining the ominous side of that same troublesome vein.
The novel literally hits the ground running, and it doesn't let up. It's filled with pathos. The ugliness of a hate crime that is also an act of terrorism is ameliorated by a depth of compassion we all wish were more common in everyday life.
The novel’s point-of-view is not likely to earn it any fans on Fox News. Which is a pity. Devotees of the Fox brand might learn a few things from Death’s Echoes. Most tellingly—that there is a human heart and a sacred life beneath the stereotypes they seem so fond of vilifying.
I like big books, and I cannot lie. My background includes talk radio, newspapers and TV news. I've hosted a morning-drive classical music program on the California coast and published nationally in Reader's Digest, the Christian Science Monitor, and Playboy. I've won awards for my journalism and my fiction. One of my essays even made it into an anthology for college English courses. For real? Yes, for real.
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