352 pages July 2022
Kindle $4.99, paperback $16.95
The star of author Todd Borg’s twentieth Tahoe murder mystery is not his ex-SFPD cop—turned PI—Owen McKenna, nor McKenna’s 170-lb Great Dane, Spot, or even the erudite Sheriff’s Sgt. Diamond Martinez, an old friend of McKenna’s.
The star is orphan Camille Dexter, an eight-year-old skateboard wizard who rolls through the sometimes gritty story steeling herself, dodging peril and impressing adults. And by the way, she’s deaf.
McKenna discovers Camille outside a Lake Tahoe hotel when he’s on the way to a meeting. Her grandfather has dropped her off, telling her he will return soon. He doesn’t.
Charles Dexter’s body is discovered crushed under a fallen pine tree. A chain saw is found near the body, and initially the police surmise that Dexter was the victim of a logging accident. Or was it suicide? Or murder? Regardless, McKenna has a deaf eight-year-old on his hands.
While police investigate, McKenna calls on his long-time girlfriend Street Casey for help with Camille. She puts the girl up for the night and introduces her to her golden retriever, Blondie.
Unable to find any of Camille’s family—or Charles’—a police sergeant suggests that it might not be in the girl’s best interest to turn her over to social services right away. Casey agrees to keep the girl with her—temporarily—until Camille has time to grasp the drastic changes in her life. Camille had been living with Dexter in a beat-up camper that police find abandoned near the grandfather’s body. She tells police they moved from place to place as he found work.
McKenna’s circuitous investigation of the grandfather’s death begins when he remembers hearing the name before. The day he found Camille he met with Anthony Rossi, head of Rossi and Dexter, a luxury goods brand. Rossi offered McKenna a security job—which he turned down. Rossi told him that he made up the name Dexter, Charles Dexter, out of thin air, so the firm would sound more substantial. A coincidence?
When McKenna returns to the hotel where he met Rossi, he’s told Rossi checked out early. Adding to the complexity of the case, police tell McKenna that if Dexter committed suicide, it would be similar to another suicide—related to another victim’s occupation—that happened recently at the lake.
While Casey and her dog try to help Camille adjust, McKenna’s legwork includes helping Martinez track catalytic converter thieves at Lake Tahoe and a taking trip to Carmel, Calif., to find a suspect.
Owing to an accident while a police detective, McKenna doesn’t carry a gun, but that doesn’t mean the PI doesn’t dispatch bad guys with aplomb. In Tahoe Moon McKenna meets Marko Yurchenko described by a Reno police lieutenant as “a truly awful man, sick, twisted, violent, deranged.” McKenna’s encounters with Yurchenko are quite brutal.
Borg fans know that his mysteries are the product of dedicated research and they inform as well as entertain. In Tahoe Moon readers learn, understandably, about hearing: the medical challenges of restoring hearing and the use of sign language. Borg also offers readers a lesson in skateboarding.
One of the strengths of Borg’s mysteries—on display here—is his characterization. While his main, continuing characters are a focus, Borg presents supporting actors with looks and quirks that make them individuals.
And in Tahoe Moon Borg uses metaphorical language in just the right places.
Here he’s referring to giant old-growth Ponderosa pines clear cut in the 19th century:
“When those trees fell it was like a skyscraper falling, forever altering the forest skyline.”
One of McKenna’s no holds-barred fights leaves him woozy and unstable as he tries to fend off blows.
“I’d moved no more than a couple of feet, because it’s hard when your limbs are in a vat of molasses and your head weighs 300 pounds.”
One of my favorite lines in the book has McKenna explaining Casey’s calm demeanor.
“You can’t solve complex problems if your emotion is a never-ending high-wire act.”
That’s good advice for readers who will find themselves quickly wrapped up in Camille’s plight and the complex mystery in Borg’s engrossing twentieth installment.
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