From the stack: PAST LIES

I was talking with someone about mysteries the other day. She was saying that she really likes to see the process of deduction unfold and to understand how the stories’ sleuths reach their conclusions. I like that, too, but I’m more than willing to let some plot holes slide if the sleuth is appealing company.

So I’m very happy with the titular implications of Past Lies: An Amy Devlin Mystery (Oni Press). They suggest to me that this book the first of a series, and while it’s far from perfect as a mystery, Amy is a terrific character. She’s got legs, and I’m eager to see her next case.

Writers Christina Weir and Nunzio DeFilippis have done a great job in developing a sympathetic, interesting sleuth. Amy is far from the conventionally dissipated, cynical private investigator. She’s young and bright, an English major who got into the field on a lark and found she had a knack for it. She’s funny and a quick thinker. There’s just the right balance between instinctual skill and inexperience. Amy is on a learning curve; sometimes her instincts pay off, and sometimes she blunders into roadblocks.

There are plenty of hurdles in her latest case. A young actor on the verge of a career breakthrough asks Amy to investigate a legendary Hollywood murder because he believes he was the victim in a past life. The actor hopes that solving the crime will help him reconcile his past life with his present, as do his boyfriend and hypnotherapist. (It’s Los Angeles, after all.)

This brings Amy into contact with the victim’s family and friends – the merry widow, alienated daughter, sleazy brother, and sneaky lawyer. She also runs afoul of Detective Duggan, the keeper of the cold case files at the local precinct. Weir and DeFilippis introduce the large cast very effectively, finding interesting variations on well-heeled creepiness.

The mechanics of the plot aren’t quite as strong as the characterization. The mystery sprawls a bit, and Weir and DeFilippis might have added two or three twists too many. But the real fun here is watching Amy improvise and spar, whether it’s with a crusty, critical cop or a sleazy suspect. Her reactions are often surprising but always believable, and she holds the story together.

I found myself really liking Christopher Mitten’s illustrations. They’re angular and somewhat stylized, but the character design is generally strong, and he gives the book a sunny, so-Cal sense of place. He keeps up nicely with the twists and turns the authors throw his way, and the storytelling is always clear, even when the plot gets a little muddy.

There’s a lot to like about Past Lies, but the best part is the potential for future adventures with Amy Devlin. Weir and DeFilippis do great work introducing her to readers, and they’ve left me wanting more.

(The above is based on a review copy provided by Oni Press.)

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