Manny is not thrilled when the call comes in that a head-just a head-has been found at the local dump. At first look, this case seems destined for the cold case files. Something about the circumstances surrounding the appearance of the head sticks with Manny, prods him to keep looking for answers. Three gun fights later, Manny is fired from his job as a detective for the sheriff's department, but the desire to solve the case has only become more consuming. He is pulled toward Devil's Kitchen, but the hope of surviving this case dwindles with every step he takes.
It's not often you find a procedural crime drama that also has some elements of the supernatural. Some may think the two would not work together. When the idea is first introduced in this book, I wasn't sure how it would go. Surprisingly, it was one of my favorite aspects of this book. Lohr did a great job of giving a good background and reason for the inclusion of the supernatural elements with Manny's Yaqui grandmother and Reina's spiritual beliefs, that it felt rather natural to discuss walls changing colors and the appearance of his dead grandmother. It probably helped, for me at least, that I've grown up in the Southwest where the mystical is a part of every day life for many, but I think even those unfamiliar with the idea will be able to connect with this story.
The details of the criminal investigation was another fascinating part of this book. After Manny's first gun battle, I turned the page thinking he was perfectly justified in shooting through the door after being shot at from the street. Lohr was quick to correct me, with Manny's superior pointing out that if done "by the book" Manny should have acted differently. I appreciated the realism Lohr's research into criminal procedure gave to this book. It was a nice balance to the supernatural.
The mystery itself was also interesting. There were no holes that I found, and I stayed interested throughout. Having said that, while Lohr was able to trick me in a few areas-Rico especially-I felt that other aspects of the mystery and clues given were not as subtle as they could have been. I correctly guessed who the inside man was the first time I met the character. The way Manny survives the rattlesnake bites was no surprise to me because the "fix" was introduced too blatantly earlier in the book. So, for me it was a balance of good twists and not-so-subtle clues, but I did still enjoy following Manny through the investigation.
The last aspect of this book I want to comment on relates to the writing. In general, the writing was strong. There was good dialog between the characters, and was generally error free in grammar and punctuation. What I had a problem with was the constant switching between points of view. In all the writing classes I have ever taken, switching POV without a scene break is a big no-no. Lohr did this constantly. I know this has become more acceptable in historical fiction lately, and in general strict rules like this are falling by the wayside in writing, but it can't detract from the story. I felt like the constant POV switching was very distracting. I was jumping between character's head by the paragraph in some areas of the book and I would have to stop and reread to realize Lohr has switched characters. I found it extremely distracting and annoying. I think the story would have flowed much more smoothly if Lohr had stuck to Manny's POV only.
Overall, this was an interesting mystery. For the most part I enjoyed the characters. Reina wasn't my favorite because she seemed rather opinionated and pushy at times, but Manny and Johnny, and even the sleazy lawyer were strong characters. The blend of crime drama and supernatural was a nice change from only having one or the other. Lohr created a story that pulled in a lot of real life situations that helped bring it to life.
Would I recommend this book? I would recommend this as an enjoyable casual mystery, but it's not going to be for everyone. Personally, I liked the mixed genre, but not everyone will.
Who would I recommend this book to? There's a strong element of procedural crime drama, so it will definitely draw in fans of that genre. The paranormal aspect may or may not detract from the crime. I think it just depends on how hard-core of a crime reader a person is. Readers interested in the Southwest will get a heavy dose of Southwest culture and politics in this book. Those looking for a crime/romance novel will probably be disappointed. This book was advertised "crime and romance in the Sonoran Desert" but I didn't think the romance angle was very strong. Manny is in a relationship when the book starts, and not much changes during the book. They have a few small tiffs about Manny not believing in the supernatural, but otherwise their relationship stayed pretty static.
Devil's Kitchen is available now from Amazon in Paperback or ebook and from Oak Tree Press.