The way Tony Hillerman put a stamp on New Mexico with Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn, Margaret Coel put a stamp on Wyoming. Hillerman brought us the Navajos through the mystery format (and so much wry, spare humor he is virtually in a class by himself) and Coel brought us the Arapahos. She was writing Wyoming country long before C.J. Box and Craig Johnson.
So who can begrudge her a chance to stretch her writing chops with the new Catherine McLeod series, about an investigative reporter in Denver? “Blood Memory” came out in 2008 and now Catherine is back.
“The Perfect Suspect” is a clean, quick-moving thriller. Yes, we know who did it before our credit card is swiped at the check-out stand. Ryan Beckman is a female Denver detective with a dicey set of problems, including having shot and killed her boyfriend, an up and coming politician. McLeod squirms, fights to be heard among her fellow investigators, avoids danger, sees through a frame job. As Beckman notes, McLeod is “edgy and distrustful.” She operates “on instincts that defied logic.” She is one of those “intuitive types.”
McLeod leans on all her intuition, follows every instinct. If there’s a category called “thriller cozy,” this might be it. There are deaths but Coel doesn’t linger over the blood and guts. She’s more interested in what McLeod is thinking, how she processes information. You don’t get Coel’s trademark doses of American Indian history and culture here, of course. The setting here is Denver but any modern American city would work. Even as McLeod analyzes, “The Perfect Suspect” is 90 percent breezy plot. Events crank along at a nifty clip. This isn’t cat-and-mouse, it’s cat-and-cat. (There are multiple points of view, all female.) At the end, the snarls turn wicked, claws out. Right down to the last.