Nostalgia City Mysteries

Mark S. Bacon

Tag Archives: Owen McKenna

Orphan leads Tahoe PI on trail of a killer

Tahoe Moon                
Todd Borg
Thriller Press
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. Continue Reading →

Darkness and light in this Tahoe thriller

Tahoe Dark
Todd Borg
341 Pages
Thriller Press  August 2016
Trade Paper $16.95 Kindle $3.99 or free with Kindle unlimited

One of my favorite flavors of mystery is the story that includes more than one serious crime.  The reader struggles not only to figure out whodunit but also to determine if the crimes are connected.  If you think you have a line on a promising suspect, you have to ask yourself, is this person also involved in the other crime(s)?

This mystery device complicates a story in ways that draw you in and appeals to both your left and right brain.  Todd Borg does this admirably in his 14th Owen McKenna mystery, Tahoe Dark.

And it starts with a bang.  David Montrop’s son is kidnapped and ransomed.  Montrop is forced to empty his bank account by tormentors who seem to know his every move.  Next, he’s killed with something rarely considered a weapon.  

 When private detective Owen McKenna’s phone rings, it’s the Reno police telling him the murder victim left a note suggesting McKenna as the likely murderer.  That sets McKenna off on a quest to find out why he was singled out by the victim and who really killed Montrop and kidnapped his son. 

Soon, an armored car is robbed in State Line, Nev., by four armed men in menacing hockey masks.  The armored car company president hires McKenna to find the robbers and the money. 

See the connection?  Is there one?  If so, it stretches from Lake Tahoe to Reno and runs through more law enforcement jurisdictions than you can imagine necessary to patrol one lake, albeit the largest alpine lake in North America.

 One of the appealing aspects of the book, and there are many, is Borg’s creation of an engaging, complex victim/suspect.  She’s a seemingly vulnerable, impoverished house cleaner who appears to have connections to all the crimes in McKenna’s world.  In Tahoe Dark, that world includes additional victims murdered in a most unusual, original and gruesome way.  The murder scenes are as chilling as he’s written in 14 books.  Try not to visualize.

You will also learn fascinating, if gross details about maggots in dead bodies delivered by forensic entomologist, Street Casey, McKenna’s girlfriend:

“Street told me that when an animal or person dies, the average length of time before a fly finds it and lays eggs is ten minutes.” 

One of the funniest lines in the book involves these bugs.  But I won’t spoil it. There are other good lines:

“I wondered if we could find out what it [a substance with an unusual odor] was without waiting two weeks to get a lab test.  So I asked this woman at the office who’s got a killer sniffer.  You know,  the kind who can smell a scent and say it’s a Lady Slipper orchid or the cleaning solution they used on the floor at the main post office in Bakersfield.”

You expect a PI to pop off snappy lines like this, don’t you?  Borg doesn’t disappoint, even offering a line about another PI:

“The couch faced a TV so old it had probably broadcast original episodes of The Rockford Files.”

Borg fans will be pleased to see his continuing characters including Casey, Tahoe cop Diamond Martinez and of course Spot, McKenna’s Great Dane sidekick.

Borg muses on the grandeur of the lake and the Sierra providing a contrast between the beauty of nature and the ugliness of murder.  In Tahoe Dark, Borg offers both light and shadow, and he does this with assurance.

Tahoe beauty hides motives, murder

Tahoe Chase
by Todd Borg
Thriller Press   351 pages
Kindle $3.99  Trade paperback $15.26


Someone is killing people around Lake Tahoe.  And the chase is on.

In Tahoe Chase, PI Owen McKenna is hired by Joe Rorvik to find out who tried to kill his wife by pushing her off the deck of their mountain home.  Rorvik is an elderly Olympic skiing medalist who doesn’t believe the police reports that say his wife’s fall was an accident.   McKenna is sympathetic, but Rorvik is at a loss to name anyone who might even remotely want to hurt his wife.

Suspects are initially scarce save for a 6-foot, 3-inch, 220-pound knife-throwing wife abuser who seems intent on not only getting McKenna off his trail, but off the planet.   Before long, a murder, possibly related to the assault on Rorvik’s wife, puts more emotional strain on McKenna’s 92-year-old client who now regrets ever calling the detective and threatens suicide.

“Everything was wrong, and I was at the epicenter, the cause,” McKenna tells himself.  “Without seeing it coming I had become the new agent of Joe’s misery.”

Later, the Tahoe detective seems to have a better grasp of what’s happening–but it’s only temporary.  In a crucial scene late in the book, he and his cop friend, Diamond Martinez, frantically chase clues and suspects around in their heads until it’s clear neither has a good idea of where the case is going.

Clues are not the only things chased here.  The novel’s title could refer to chases in cars, boats, skis and on foot, all of which add action and suspense throughout the book and keep the plot moving ahead swiftly.  Author Todd Borg’s unusual, quirky–sometimes bizarre–characters add to the complexity of the story, keeping the PI chase fresh and appealing, not to mention puzzling.

McKenna occasionally mentions a previous case and he even borrows a cabin cruiser from a former client.  The detective has lots of previous cases to ponder, if he chooses, as Tahoe Chase is Borg’s 11th Owen McKenna whodunit.  Fans of McKenna will appreciate the ways this case is different from previous novels.  Yet the familiar cast of characters is still here including McKenna’s entomologist girlfriend Street Casey, his Great Dane, Spot, and his law enforcement friends from California and Nevada jurisdictions around the lake.Tahoe Chase

Tahoe Chase, like Borg’s other books, has background subjects, areas of specialization related to suspects or victims and readers gain insight on new topics as they work on the case with McKenna.  In Chase, readers learn details about such diverse topics as skiing and domestic abuse.  In one of his earlier novels–and one of my favorites–Borg took up the topic of autism.  In Tahoe Silence, a young autistic girl is kidnapped and terrorized by a biker gang.  McKenna–and readers–learn valuable lessons about autism delivered in a more sensitive way than you might expect in a PI novel.

Borg’s sensitivity comes through in his books.  McKenna has a code.  Not only does he not use firearms–as a result of a tragic shooting when he was a San Francisco cop–but McKenna treats his girlfriend (as well as most everyone else) with respect and no matter how depressing a case may be, he never gets drunk or beats up on people except in self-defense or defense of others.   This is not to say that McKenna is a schoolboy.  He’s devised ingenious (and sometimes quite painful) ways of dealing with criminals, he sleeps with his girlfriend (although readers never get in bed with them) and he loves a good bottle of wine or a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.

Along the way to solving a crime, McKenna usually offers simple wisdom in the form of observations or occasionally as advice to friends.  In a scene in Tahoe Silence he finds himself on the losing end of a misunderstanding with his girlfriend.

I suddenly stopped as I remembered the proverb that says when you find that you’re digging yourself into a hole, stop digging.

In Tahoe Chase, while McKenna is talking to Joe Rorvik in Rorvik’s home, he thinks he sees movement outside.  But he’s not certain, so he waits as he thinks to himself:

I’d learned long ago that patience was often rewarded.  Certainly impatience rarely was.

When McKenna and Casey are trying to console a young woman who’s been brutalized and is now facing a daunting journey, McKenna is impressed with his girlfriend’s supportive technique.

Talk only about trivial stuff, and it communicates that you’re worried about the big issues and are afraid to focus on them.  Talk only about the major stuff, and it clutters the traveler’s mind with too many concerns. Strike a medium balance, and the person knows that you understand the scope of the mission, but you are still relaxed about it.  The relaxed manner telegraphs confidence in the person who is about to embark on the big event.

McKenna’s philosophical observations aren’t always designed to advance the plot, but you get a more clear understanding of the protagonist as a fully developed character.

Meanwhile, back at the Chase, Borg keeps McKenna, Martinez and Rorvik guessing until almost the final scene when the complex plot twists back on itself and the murderer is revealed.   Tahoe Chase is not a sprint but a marathon giving readers cerebral and emotional exercise along the way.  Borg fans will enjoy the chase and eagerly await the ending, and first-timers will want to find the early books in the McKenna series and start following Lake Tahoe’s coolest character.


Todd Borg books on Amazon

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