Murder at the Columbarium – Emily Gallo

Summary:

This is an interesting whodunnit story, which also has a number of other threads running through it.

Main Characters:

Jed Gibbons: Sixty-something African-American, curator of a Columbarium (a building where funeral urns are stored).

Monica: His wife, positively diagnosed with HIV.

Minor Characters:

Dutch: Sixty-something grower of legal weed.

Juniper: Dutch’s live-in companion, and overseer of his farming operations.

Macolm: Long-time friend of Jed and Monica.

Tony: Another friend, roughly the same age as Jed, who covers for him at the Columbarium when he needs to travel to investigate.

Plot:

Jed arrives at work, and discovers the body of a Pakistani woman on the grounds, along with her still-breathing little baby girl. He immediately calls the police, and the novel is up and running.

Jed of course becomes a person of interest. He quickly gets sucked into the police investigation process and, initially to prove his innocence, then fired by his desire to foster the little girl that he and Monica name Aja, he begins to follow up leads of his own.

While the murder investigation gathers pace in the novel, normal life also goes on, and we get an insight into the relationships and world that Jed and Monica have. They are particularly close to Malcolm and his partner Savali, who is undergoing gender transition. They are struggling to cope with the impending closure of the old folks home they are running, and the need to place their residents. This has no direct impact on the investigation, but the threads are neatly pulled together by the end.

As a result of Jed’s amateur work, he is led to weed-farmers Dutch and Juniper, who become good friends, even though they run a personal risk. His work also unearths less savoury characters, and Jed relies on the police and FBI for support and protection. We see racist incidents, neo-Nazi activity and the backlash against it, and some shadowy visits by obvious underworld types.

Throughout all this, we see the tensions rise between Jed and Monica over Aja, their shared hopes and dreams, and the practicality of two sixty-somethings raising an infant.

What I Liked:

  • It is more than a simple whodunnit. We get a real sense of people at a point in time, their lives, and how they deal with change and stress.
  • The multiplicity of topics raised – racism (both direct and indirect), importance of family, LGBTQ, different moral viewpoints on cultural issues, etc.
  • The plotline was excellent, with some surprising twists, and there was some strong character development in Jed and Monica.

What I Didn’t Like:

  • There was obviously at least one preceding book, as there are references to previous events, and characters who are mentioned but not “seen”. This did throw the story for me a little, because I couldn’t see where those characters/events helped this novel.
  • There were a couple of scenes that were too domestic, in that the conversation was desultory, and nothing happened to move the story along.

Overall:

I found it a pleasant read, well-structured and reasonably paced. There are a lot of sub-issues addressed, but there is no high moral ground taken. The issues are raised as being normal everyday issues, and treated by the characters in that way, with pros and cons. It will please fans of the amateur detective genre, as it hits all the touchpoints. Definitely recommend.

Acknowledgements:

That’s to Rosie Amber’s Book Review Team (her superb blog is HERE) and the author for giving me a .mobi of the novel, in return for an honest and objective review.

 

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