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Over My Dead Body: BLACKBIRD is "an excellent police procedural and first class mystery."

Date: Jun 1 2015

Practicing psychological therapist Tom Wright presents an excellent police procedural and first class mystery in Blackbird.

Teenager Jim “Biscuit” Bonham, from Mr. Wright’s highly regarded coming-of-age premiere novel, What Dies in Summer, is now a thirty-something homicide investigator for the tri-state area of Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas.

Bonham takes on a new case, the horrific torture murder of a prominent local psychologist, Deborah Gold. The problem isn’t finding suspects, because she was so disliked by most everyone that you practically have to give out numbers to those waiting in line with grudges against her. But harboring a dislike and committing brutal homicide is not the same, and so the list of genuine suspects dwindles as alibis and other clues point toward yet unknown perpetrators.

Bonham asks for help from his beloved cousin, Lee Ann “LA” Rowe, who is herself a psychologist, and the two work with homicide investigators to search for the murderers. Soon, the killing of a key witness both closes investigatory doors and opens new pathways toward a solution.

Blackbird might be considered at first look as a typical cookie-cutter thriller. The novel features a weary cop (Bonham) who’s having marital problems and who engages in lively disputes regarding crime fighting techniques with his colleagues. Bonham also has conflicts with the town supervisors and is borderline for being suspended. And the supporting cast is quite colorful, well stocked with quirky suspects and a team of diverse cops.

But Blackbird is a far remove from the standard police procedural. It is superbly literate and engaging, and the invocation of psychological aspects elevates the story line and adds substantial strength to the text. It’s also tightly plotted, with considerable spirit and energy, lots of action and interesting plot arcs that will entertain mystery fans from the start. Highly sensitive readers are cautioned however, as the lead-off murder is intensely graphic and disturbing.

As for those who might be concerned that the psychological background might overload the story line and muddle the narrative, such fears are unfounded. Mr. Wright educates his readers with smartly concise snippets of the ins and outs of the therapeutic profession without overtaxing or boring the reader in the least.

The book is not without flaws. For a while, we don’t know Bonham’s name and because he’s referred to as “Lou” it’s a surprise to find that he’s actually Jim Bonham and that his nickname is short for Lieutenant. We’re also introduced to his tweener daughters but it’s quite some time before we learn their actual ages. Mr. Wright’s dialect for two characters is also distracting. Dialect is maddeningly difficult to write, and is generally considered passé for a good reason: it rarely rings true. The Asian medical examiner (an overused stereotype in itself) sounds like a badly scripted Charlie Chan. And an African-American homicide cop speaks in an illiterate full-bore ghetto Ebonics that lessens the character. A professional and experienced police investigator who likely has a college degree would never speak this way except as a joke.

But these are minor objections. Blackbird is a terrific mystery, one that fans of police procedurals will particularly enjoy. I give the book a top rating.