What would you do if you were a regular Joe (or Jane), just living your life, when one day you suddenly found yourself the prime suspect for a murder–one that you knew you most definitely didn’t commit? What if physical evidence of this murder–a little something like, oh, the dead body–were found in your possession? Try to imagine the mental stress you’d be under, unable to fathom how your life had gone so horribly wrong, just like that. And, think of the practical problems you’d have–seeing as how word of your alleged murderous rampage would be on the lips of your neighbors and coworkers the very next morning, following a daily cuppa joe and quick scan of the local paper? Would you have any friends left? Would you still have a job? If the evidence were stacked against you, and almost no one believed you, what would you do next?
That’s precisely the mess Bo Forrester lands in, in Nancy Holzner’s gripping mystery, Peace, Love, and Murder. One day, hero Bo is just an easy-going fellow who (until now) has been content to mind his own business… and the next, he’s managed to draw the number one slot on the town’s Most Wanted list. Bo quickly comes to the unhappy realization that the police are pretty content with him as the main suspect, and that the only possible way out of his predicament–and the only way to avoid a long stay in prison–is to take matters into his own hands and search out the truth.
That, however, is easier said than done. Bo isn’t a detective, nor is he in any way connected to anyone rich and powerful. He’s just a regular guy–a world-weary, somewhat-rootless chap approaching middle age, living alone, eking out a meager living as a cabdriver in the small, upstate New York hometown to which he’s recently returned. We gradually learn through Bo’s first-person narration that it’s a desire to reconnect with his estranged parents which led him back to his birthplace. After joining the army fresh out of school in a fit of teenage rebellion, Bo’s peace-loving hippie parents effectively disowned him. Twenty years later, though, Bo gets a hankering to mend the family fences… only to find that his folks moved away several years earlier, leaving the area without a trace. At a loss for what to do next–and having nothing better to do with himself, anyway–Bo decides to just stay for awhile (which wouldn’t have been such a bad plan, really, if this whole murder thing hadn’t cropped up).
Yeah, about that murder. In one of those “that-could-totally-happen” random twists of fate, Bo’s cab is pulled over by a police officer for speeding one day. Unfortunately, the deputy is a young woman with a large chip on her small shoulder, eager to make a name for herself, and she proceeds to give Bo–along with his fares, and then his cab–the full work-up. That’s when she finds the dead body in the trunk.
The dead man, it turns out, was a respected philanthropist with a passion for The Arts. Fred Davies was happily married to a beautiful woman, successful in her own right (who won’t be inheriting any of the money). He was generous with his grants to fledgling artists. But, even though Bo has absolutely no motive–no ties to the victim other than driving the cab on the day the body was found in it–the police decide to pin all their suspicions on him. They take to dogging his every step (as does the frustrated female deputy–who isn’t even on the case). Sooner or later, they’re sure he’ll slip up and, oh, go on another murderous rampage or something. (And then they’ll nail him. That’s their plan, anyway.)
Not being the murderous sort, though, Bo has no intention of going along with that particular plan. After he and Mrs. Davies meet at her husband’s funeral–Bo may not have known the guy, but nice fellow that he is, he can’t help but feel a little connection after unknowingly chauffeuring the other man around for a few hours, and thus feels compelled to pay his last respects–Mrs. Davies enlists Bo’s help. (Does it hurt that the widow is a stunningly beautiful woman, with bottomless green eyes and such a sad aura surrounding her? Of course not.) In short order, Bo finds motives aplenty–none of which the police bothered to follow up on once they’d set their sights on poor Bo. There’s the art history professor/wannabe seductress who’d been in Fred’s orbit (and whose drunken advances had been rejected), and her insanely-jealous, built-like-a-linebacker hubby (who’s already served time in the pokey for assaulting one of his wife’s former flings). A graffiti artist sponsored by Fred’s foundation, who seems more poseur (with his affectations of gangsta style and love of guns) than serious artist. And, there’s the man who worked at the foundation with Fred, who’s hiding a nasty little gambling habit up his sleeve (and may very well be cooking the books).
The further Bo delves into the lives and backgrounds of everyone Fred knew, the more confused he becomes. And then, the situation goes from pretty darn bad to even worse. A local banker is found dead (of a murder meant to look like a drug overdose). Now the police suspect Bo of dealing drugs and committing random murders. Everything comes to a head–and time runs out for Bo–when an ex-coworker of his is killed in a hit-&-run… with Bo’s car. It’s clear to Bo that someone is setting him up to take a really big fall–and that that someone is well on the way to succeeding.
Holzner really kicks the story into high gear at this point, as Bo goes on the lam in a last-ditch, desperate effort to clear his name. (Don’t worry; he does.) It’s an intense, high-octane race to the end. (This would make a very entertaining suspense/thriller movie, by the way.)
This book is about so much more than exciting action sequences, though, or even about “whodunnit”. At times it’s delightfully witty, peppered with snappy dialogue (and monologue–Bo is an amusing guy, even in his own head). It’s also an intelligent story; Holzner has crafted a really fine mystery which holds together well. (None of those “oh, geez, not that old trick again” moments that serve only to insult the readers’ intelligence.) Finally, this is a book with a lot of heart. Minor characters are depicted with nearly the same care as the primary ones, giving the impression that we could go and meet Bo and his eccentric pals–and have a beer with them–if we drove around upstate New York long enough. The author has imbued all of her characters–but especially Bo–with real depth, and we’re left with a genuine sense of Bo’s vulnerability. How he deals with everything, while facing his own fears and demons, gives the story real substance.
I don’t know if Holzner (or the publisher) has plans to continue Bo’s saga, but it sure seems like a natural. Bo still has plenty of questions, and plenty of demons yet to face… and I’d really like to be around to see him do just that.
Bo Forrester [Mystery]
Peace, Love, and Murder-August 31, 2009
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