The debut novel by well-known comic book writer and editor Fabian Nicieza combines sarcastic humor with a cozy mystery in very specific suburban setting. I happen to live in the same town as the author, which is the setting for the story. Mr. Nicieza nails both the specifics of the location and, more importantly, the attitude and atmosphere of the setting. This is an entertaining and engaging read for anyone living in a suburban setting. It takes on, with a light touch, some of the more divisive social issues afflicting such communities and succeeds in telling a story with levity as well as drama.
Kenny (the disgraced journalist) and Andrea (the very pregnant mother of four, who used to be a crime scene investigator, and whose marriage is on the rocks) are the protagonists in a cast of flawed but somehow not unsympathetic characters. They were a romantic item years earlier, and there is a tiny amount of sexual tension between them here, but this is not at all a romance novel. They are both investigating a rare local murder, which ties into a decades-old scandal that will shake the foundations of (some of) the township’s most notable families. The murder of an Indian gas station attendant would not seem like the lynchpin of a huge conspiracy and cover-up, but that’s were we’re going on this journey. The twists and turns are appropriate for the story, and the conclusion ties up the loose ends nicely, if a bit too neatly in places. Both Kenny and Andrea are, at various times, heroes and anti-heroes. The author does a nice job leaving them ambiguous, even in the end.
The descriptions of Andrea’s life, her pregnancy, and the disintegration of her marriage are all poignant and amusing. Juggling four kids with one more on the way (there’s never a great explanation for why Andrea wants another child at this point in her life) is well-described. Fortunately, she has friends willing to take her kids whenever she needs to be off sleuthing. At times the narrative becomes too much Andrea’s day-to-day life with her children and driving Jeff to the train and the local moms griping about youth sports. The murder/mystery story at times gets lost in too much detail about Andrea’s life. At the same time, the very complex story that unfolds around the murder and its link to historical events at times moves along too slowly, leaving the reader wondering when all the life details are going to fit into the larger story. The vignettes about Andrea’s life at times seem more their own novel than merely the context of the story we’re trying to get to the end of.
On balance, I enjoyed the story (and I’m definitely the target audience). I’m not sure how someone who doesn’t live in West Windsor or Plainsboro will feel about the local descriptions. For all the times I would have liked the main story to move a little faster, I was always curious about what would happen to Andrea and Kenny –and whether she would ever have that baby.