Title: Cotton by Paul Heald
Clarkeston Chronicles Series Book Two
Publisher: Yucca Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery
Length: 352 pages
Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Edelweiss
When new evidence arises in a cold case, can Professor Hopkins refrain from delving into a newfound world of corruption, vice, and danger?
Stanley Hopkins cannot resist the invitation from a honey-voiced US attorney asking him to track down the source of photographs of a young dance major abducted five years earlier from her apartment in Clarkeston, Georgia. A journalist has stumbled across newly posted pictures of Diana Cavendish on the Internet, apparently taken just days before she disappeared with her boyfriend.
While Stanley deals with vexing personal problems and scrambles to identify the owner of the website that acquired the photos, small-town journalist James Murphy and federal prosecutor Melanie Wilkerson uncover new evidence of the crime—and the cover-up—that ranges far beyond the confines of the victim’s quaint Georgia college town.
This second installment of the Clarkeston Chronicles presents new challenges for Hopkins that take him far from the California base he established in Death in Eden and introduces him to a fascinating group of collaborators who will anchor him in small-town Georgia.
Cotton by Paul Heald is an intriguing mystery about a cold case in small Georgia town. Although this second installment in the Clarkeston Chronicles series still features college professor Stan Hopkins, two newcomers to the series play major roles during the investigation into the disappearances of Diana Cavendish and Jacob Granville.
Newspaper reporter James Murphy reported extensively on Diana’s case five years earlier so when he runs across a photo of her on a website featuring bikini-clad beauties, his curiosity is immediately piqued. Believing the local police failed to adequately investigate her initial disappearance and tried to cover-up her boyfriend Jacob’s possible involvement in the case, he reports his discovery to federal prosecutor Melanie Wilkerson. Agreeing to see if she can track down the source of the photo, Melanie runs into a dead end and soon receives a warning to leave the case alone. Needing help tracking down the information about the uploaded photo, Melanie reaches out to Professor Stan Hopkins to track down the owner of the website. When the case takes an international turn, Murphy, Hopkins and Wilkerson are stunned when they uncover a shocking conspiracy close to home.
A deacon in his church with a troubled marriage, James is embarrassed to have to admit he was looking at scantily clad women but he has no choice but to report his discovery. He believes Diana deserves justice but he also knows local police will not welcome his renewed interest in the unsolved case. His search for answers takes him to the local Episcopal church where the previous priest Ernest Rodgers (now deceased) was firmly ensconced in Jacob’s corner. Finding an unexpected ally in his replacement Father “Thor” Carter, James hopes to find new clues about Jacob in Rodgers’ long abandoned papers. Working closely with Melanie, they uncover some puzzling information about Granville, but they continue to have more questions than answers.
Melanie’s hard work has paid off with her promotion to federal prosecutor but she is beginning to feel the lack of a personal life. Although she does not have jurisdiction in the Cavendish case, she does not see any harm in doing a little off the books poking around in the case. Perplexed by some of the information she finds, Melanie continues helping James with his investigation after a troubling phone call seems to trigger suspicious activity. Hoping a fresh set of eyes might provide a different perspective on old information, James and Melanie stumble across some previously overlooked details but will this discovery aid them in their quest for locating the missing couple?
After suffering a tragic loss, Stan Hopkins eagerly agrees to try to track down the owner of the website where James spotted the pictures of Diana. He cleverly devises a plan that yields what could be a vital clue and he impulsively follows this lead to a small town in Spain. After James and Melanie discover Jacob’s bewildering connection to the World Trade Organization, Stan then travels to Geneva where he finds startling information that breaks the case wide open.
Cotton is another meticulously plotted, complex mystery by Paul Heald that quickly escalates from a simple small town murder investigation to a shocking conspiracy involving the cotton industry, trade agreements and US politics. An informative and exciting addition to the Clarkeston Chronicles series, the introduction of new characters and shift in locations help keep the series fresh and interesting while the storyline is a somewhat shocking exposé of political misconduct and corruption. It is an absolutely outstanding mystery that fans of the genre do not want to miss.