Walter, Jess. Over Tumbled Graves.

NY: HarperCollins, 2001.

I only recently discovered Walter’s Citizen Vince and immediately went back and hunted up his earlier couple of novels. This was his first, set in the author’s hometown of Spokane, Washington — a mostly conservative, mostly blue-collar, economically moribund town on the eastern edge of the state as unlike Seattle as it’s possible to be.

Police Detective Caroline Mabry, a college graduate who double-majored in criminal justice and literature, has (in her mid-30s) given up her dreams of law school and has settled into a routine life dealing with Spokane’s druggies and loan sharks. The future doesn’t seem any less gray than her recent past, but it’s what she’s got. She’s involved in what was intended to be a drug sting in the city’s main park, overlooking the river, when everything suddenly goes very badly wrong and a young dealer is pitched off a footbridge into the raging torrent by his apparent customer. Caroline opts to try to save the kid rather than chase the buyer but is unsuccessful. The kid drowns and the other guy escapes; not a good day, and it’s her fault. But then, while the cops are searching downstream for the drowning victim, the half-buried body of a young hooker turns up in the river bank. And then another one. And, shortly afterward, a third.

Spokane simply doesn’t get three murders in a single day — usually not even in the same month. Are they facing a serial killer? And before they know it, the circus has come to town — FBI profilers (current and ex) who want to grab the case away from the locals, TV crews who are more interested in lining up shots than in preserving evidence, and all the rest of the serial killer cottage industry. And there’s the married Det. Sgt. Alan Dupree, her mentor, with whom Caroline has been carefully not having an affair for six years. And there’s Joel, her twelve-years-younger bartender boyfriend. And there’s Spivey, the too-efficient, wave-of-the-future detective who seems about to take over the case, with his computer databases and CSI methods. And, last but far from least, there’s Spokane’s prostitute community, not much different from anyplace else — but this is Caroline’s town and she cares what happens to the people in it, even the hookers.

The investigation of the murders and the resolution of the case is very nicely handled — you won’t begin figuring it out until very near the end — but Walter’s real talent is in delineating the characters and their darker interrelationships. An excellent and highly recommended debut.

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