A well-crafted murder mystery that lays a trail of breadcrumbs.
Emily Gallo is a master at laying well-placed breadcrumbs to keep the plot twisting, the suspect list growing and the “who done it” moment a surprise until the very end. Murder at the Columbarium opens with Jed, caretaker at the Columbarium in San Francisco, finding an infant girl in the bushes beside her dead mother. Wanting to adopt the baby, Jed becomes consumed with finding the killer and learning the identity of little Aja.
But this story is much more than a simple one-dimensional mystery. The characters — ageing Jed and his wife Monica, their old friends Malcolm and Savali who need to re-home elderly residents when a retirement home gets shut down, and new friends like singer-weed grower Dutch and Juniper, the woman who runs his ranch — have flourishing lives of their own that flow along multiple storylines adding depth and connecting with readers on an emotional level. This novel will leave fans waiting for the next book in the series to revisit their favorite cast of characters.
The blending of the LGBTQ lifestyle, racism issues, drug cultures (both illegal and medical), death, and homage to death is natural and doesn’t feel forced or obvious. Hats off to Gallo for her masterful blending of multiple cultures in a modern city setting.
For readers who have not read the first book in the series, like me, the characters from the earlier book could have been introduced more naturally. Although characters like Finn and Nick were mentioned a couple of times, we never met them and I am unsure about their role in this novel. Also, the point of view does head hop, not enough to make the story hard to follow, but it was noticeable.
At times, Gallo tries too hard to bring the reader into the scene. Actions become mundane and conversation too literal, making the text read more like a screenplay rather than a novel.
Overall, the scenes I enjoyed most depicted Jed’s investigation and internal musings, and I’m hoping to see more of him in Gallo’s next novel, The Last Resort.