Title: The Homeplace by Kevin Wolf
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery
Length: 272 pages
Book Rating: B
Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley
Chase Ford was the first of four generations of Ford men to leave Comanche County, Colorado. For Chase, leaving saved the best and hid the worst. But now, he has come home. His friends are right there waiting for him. And so are his enemies.
Then the murder of a boy, a high school basketball star just like Chase, rocks the small town. When another death is discovered—one that also shares unsettling connections to him—law enforcement’s attention turns towards Chase, causing him to wonder just what he came home to.
A suspenseful, dramatic crime novel, The Homeplace captures the stark beauty of life on the Colorado plains.
With descriptive prose that brings the rural setting vividly to life and a cast of colorful characters, The Homeplace is riveting debut by Kevin Wolf.
The son of a local rancher, Chase Ford’s extraordinary abilities on the basketball court gave him the opportunity to leave his small hometown in Colorado behind. Sixteen years after bringing his high school team to a glorious championship victory, his NBA career is over due to a knee injury and his marriage to a country superstar ended in divorce because of his prescription drug addiction to painkillers. Having successfully kicked his drug habit, he is back in Brandon for the weekend while he ties up a few loose ends from his unhappy childhood when the body of high school basketball superstar Jimmy Riley is discovered on a nearby bison ranch. The investigation into Jimmy’s death has barely begun when the body of Chase’s mentor and beloved basketball Coach Robert Porter’s is found by one of the members of the team. Growing more concerned about the unexplained disappearance of Jimmy’s girlfriend, Dolly Benavidez, local Sheriff (and Chase’s high school nemesis) Lincoln Kendall is convinced Chase is somehow involved with the murders. His childhood friends, Deputy Marty Storm and Game Warden Birdie Hawkins, have complete faith that the timing of the murders is a coincidence but will they uncover the murderer’s identity before Kendall’s antipathy towards Chase ends with his arrest for the murders?
Despite the town’s reverence, Chase does not feel worthy of their adulation. He is rather humble and although he never returned to Brandon after high school graduation, this does not mean he forgot about the small town or its inhabitants. Coming back stirs up old memories of his unhappy and troubled childhood but Chase is determined to make amends for his now deceased father’s sins. Reflective and uncomfortable with the strong emotions he feels about the painful events that transpired before leaving town, Chase cannot help but try to find out what happened to Jimmy and Coach Porter. He becomes even more determined to find out who is behind the murders when the truth about Dolly’s disappearance emerges. Unlike Sheriff Kendall, Chase has put the events of their shared past behind him, but with town beauty Mercy Saylor resurrecting the old rivalry between them, will Kendall allow his animosity to cloud his judgment?
Luckily for Chase, Marty and Birdie manage to maintain a degree of professionalism that allows them to continue their investigation with much more objectivity than Kendall. Although Birdie has absolutely no use for the arrogant and condescending sheriff, she has no choice but to follow his orders to bring in Ray-Ray Jackson, a small time crook with strong anti-government beliefs. A skilled hunter with a survivalist mindset, Ray-Ray manages to stay one step ahead of Birdie whose tracking abilities and knowledge of the outdoors are on par with the man she is hunting. Marty is as loyal as the day is long and while he is an excellent cop, he is prone to acting before thinking which sometimes puts him in harm’s way. Kendall is egotistical and incredibly opportunistic and he never passes up the chance to work any given situation to his benefit. While not exactly a stellar lawman, he unscrupulously takes advantage of other people’s hard work to make himself look good.
The investigation into the murders takes many twists and turns as leads fail to pan out and little evidence is uncovered. While Ray-Ray is the most notable person of interest, information about convenience store worker Cecil definitely raises a few eyebrows. With an astounding ability to spin tall tales, he is a rather creepy man who lands on local law enforcement’s radar after someone comes forward with a very damning story about him. Birdie remains intrigued by a tantalizing piece of evidence she finds early in the investigation, but will it lead to the discovery of killer? Although Mercy lingers on the periphery for much of the story, her behavior is certainly a little strange as she tries to resurrect her long ago romance with Chase. At the same time, she carries on a flirtation with Kendall that raises a few questions about what she is up to. However, the biggest challenge to the investigation is a sudden change in the weather that leaves local law enforcement scrambling to protect their evidence and bring in suspects for questioning before worsening conditions spread them even thinner than they already are. Will they unmask the killer before he or she strikes again?
A suspense-laden mystery with authentic dialogue and well-drawn characters, The Homeplace is an engaging and fast-paced novel. Kevin Wolf’s clever red herrings and misdirects successfully keep the murderer’s identity concealed for a good portion of the story. Although it does become apparent who the killer is, the motive for the crime is virtually impossible to guess until the novel’s rather dramatic conclusion. All in all, a solid debut that fans of the genre will enjoy.