Wednesday, April 24, 2019


A version of this review previously appeared in Shelf Awareness and is republished here with permission.

The Good Detective, John McMahon's debut spin on the detective-tortured-by-grief theme, is the first in a planned series featuring P.T. Marsh. He is an up-and-comer in the Mason Falls, Ga., police department, until he loses his wife and son and turns to alcohol. Uncertainty over his father-in-law's potential role in their fatal accident continually gnaws at him.

Off the clock, P.T. visits the abusive boyfriend of a local stripper to give him a warning. The house becomes a crime scene when the man is found dead in his chair, leaving P.T. flummoxed, almost certain he left the jerk beaten but alive. Things go downhill fast when a black teenager is lynched and burned and evidence ties the two killings together.

P.T., partner Remy and former partner Abe dig into both crimes, and the clues fly at a furious clip while P.T. secretly tries to avoid being suspected of the first murder. A few of the numerous plot arcs are extraneous, some leaps in logic are made and police procedure often goes by the wayside, but McMahon is a fine storyteller and his characters are intriguing.

McMahon's fluid writing highlights the dark and emotive themes, with P.T.'s bulldog Sweet Purvis, all he has left, used as a tender emotional touchstone via P.T.'s subconscious. The beautiful small touches McMahon "shows" (e.g., the overgrown shoe ruts in the dirt under P.T.'s son's swing) are more powerful than the "telling," but The Good Detective is fast-paced, compelling and a good start to a promising series.

STREET SENSE:  McMahon has the start of what might be a good series here. The character work is great, and the core mysteries kept me engaged. I hope the second entry takes that foundation and relies on it.

A FAVORITE PASSAGE: "Wade moved like a chicken thief." "I was five counties from fine." McMahon has some gems like these that sometimes get lost in the shuffle. Yes, I'm a fan of short prose, but if you can write it well, write it.

COVER NERD SAYS:  I dig this one, despite the seeming run on "person from behind in a dark forest" covers that are becoming so tiresome. I like how the image feels like a tunnel (with some light at the end) and also like an eye (with the figure as the pupil - just go with me here). In a sea of covers like this, it stands out as a good one with more depth to it.

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About Malcolm Avenue Review

I was lucky enough to be born and raised in a nifty, oak-shaded ranch house on Malcolm Avenue, a wide-laned residential street with little through traffic, located amid the foothills of Northern California. It was on that street and in that house I learned most of my adolescent life lessons, and many grown-up ones to boot. Malcolm Avenue was "home" for more than thirty years.

It was on Malcolm Avenue, through and with my family and the other families that made up our neighborhood of characters, that I first learned about and gained an appreciation for the things I continue to love the most to this day: music, animals, photography, sports, television/movies and, of course, books.

I owe a debt of gratitude to that life on Malcolm Avenue. It gave me a sense of community and friendship, support and adventure. For better and worse, life on that street likely had the biggest impact on the person I've become. So this blog, and the things I write here, are all, at their base level, a little bit of a love letter to Malcolm Avenue.


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