There is a strange allure to the Deep South that has captivated authors and readers alike; life moves slower, but mysteries seem to run deeper. In that beloved tradition, author Walter Thomas Geer presents a new halfhearted hero, Detective Tyler Monroe, in Tipper Lake. This novel unrolls like a slow Southern drawl, but the scenes and characters are edged with danger, betraying something more menacing just below the surface.
After a judge is murdered in what appears to be an open-and-shut case, Tyler Monroe moves down to a temporary post in Georgia, where his New York background is far from unnoticed. Besides the secrets that seem rampant in that 1960s backdrop, Monroe has his own covert mission tasked to him by the FBI. What was initially a simple justification for his relocation becomes a fascinating spiral into a much seedier world. The judge wasn’t murdered as a result of marital rage, and Monroe is determined to set the record straight, even though many other forces would rather he leave the case alone.
As a classic rough-around-the-edges antihero, Detective Monroe has more than his fair share of personal demons, with moments of existential floundering. Charming and suave he is not, but he is a capable, stubborn and daring detective. Seeing small glimpses of his personal life throughout the book, including his soft spot for children and his clumsiness in romance, humanizes the detective so he’s flawed but likeable. As this book is the first in a series of detective mysteries set in the Deep South, creating an appealing hero is essential, and Geer hits the mark.
The Vietnam War is in full swing and these are the tumultuous years of civil rights fighting in the South, which provides an interesting context for many of the characters and events in the novel. Geer does an excellent job of retaining the colloquial nature of the speech and has really done his research in terms of the cultural landscape, and it isn’t difficult to get immersed in the plot for the cultural detail alone.
However, some of the plot developments border on far-fetched, and will surely raise an eyebrow in more discerning readers. The writing itself also leaves something to be desired, as the dialogue is quite simplistic and terse, and the descriptions are often blunt and choppy. This style is no doubt reflective of the book’s tone, but readers may still want to see some more authorial muscle on display. Some of the settings throughout the book could do with a bit more life as well.
That being said, the revelations that begin coming out as the book reaches its climax are surprising, and well-buried in the prose. The book may be terse, but it’s also a startling read at times. It can be hard to sincerely shock readers who have become accustomed to unraveling mysteries by the halfway mark of a book, but Tipper Lake succeeds at keeping readers on their toes.
Overall, Tipper Lake isn’t the most polished or complex mystery, but it is an enjoyable and occasionally thrilling first novel in the Tyler Monroe series.
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