This debut novel by Emily Littlejohn has all the elements of a great mystery: compelling characters; a vivid setting (the mountains of Colorado); strong writing; and of course, a puzzling murder. Gemma Monroe is a police officer in the small ski town of Cedar Valley, Colorado, who is called to investigate the murder of a clown at a traveling circus. The town is stunned when they learn that the victim is actually a local teenager – the mayor’s son — who was thought to have died in a tragic accident three years earlier. As Gemma and her partner investigate, they suspect a connection with a cold case, the murder of two young boys in 1985, that has obsessed Gemma for years. Atmospheric and cleverly plotted, the mystery moves along swiftly.
While I love the whodunit plot aspect of mysteries, I find that I need to be really drawn in by the characters, and this book sets up a great cast of them. Gemma is the narrator of the story, and she’s entertaining and nuanced: six months pregnant, unsure of her boyfriend’s fidelity, and hungry all the time. Her partner, Finn, is a good cop who might have some ethical issues. We also get to know Bull and Julia, Gemma’s grandparents; Sam, a rookie cop with great instincts; and Angel Chavez, the unshakable police chief who might have political ambitions. This is a cast that clearly has more cases to solve and secrets to reveal. If you like Deborah Crombie, Julia Spencer-Fleming, or Louise Penny, give Emily Littlejohn a try. I’m sure we’ll be hearing more from her soon!