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By Chaz McGee
Berkley Prime Crime, 2010 ($7.99)
Reviewed by Shirley Wetzel
In life, Kevin Fahey was a loser. He was a lazy cop, a mediocre husband and father, a complete failure. If he hadn't bought the bullet during a botched drug sting, he would have eventually succumbed to his alcoholism, one way or another. At the moment of death he didn't see the white light at the end of the tunnel, no loved ones waiting for him, just a sense that his soul was in limbo. He has time to review all the mistakes he made, all the people he'd let down, and he realizes he has been given a second chance. If he can do something good in this afterlife, he believes he will be able to move on to the place of everlasting peace.
As Kevin wanders the streets of his little town, he sees the good, the bad, and the evil embodied in its citizens. He finds a new kind of love, unconditional, non-judgmental, for people he might never have noticed when he was alive, including innocent children playing in a park, Maggie Gunn, who's the kind of detective he wishes he'd been, and a sweet elderly lady called Noni. He worries when Noni strikes up a friendship with Robert Michael Martin, a lonely, lost soul who belongs to a group of concerned citizens who keep watch at parks for child predators.
Kevin is watching over Noni when Robert takes her to the neighborhood park, telling her about a stranger who's been hanging around there the last few days. He wants her opinion on whether the man is a threat or not. When they get there, they see a commotion across the street, with several police cars parked outside a small, neat cottage. Kevin slips through the crime scene tape and goes inside. He sees the body of a young woman who, on first glance, seems to have committed suicide. At least that's the conclusion Detective Adrian Calvano, a cop Kevin detests for his slip-shod work, comes to. Kevin can tell that the woman was murdered, and he is relieved when Calvano's partner, Maggie Gunn, realizes that too.
In the midst of the investigation, a scream is heard from the park. One of the mothers, caught up in the drama across the street, lost sight of her son for a moment, and now he's missing. Well-meaning parents and neighbors trample through the park, compromising any clues to the crime. Kevin finds a clue, but his ability to communicate to the other side is limited. When Robert Martin approaches Detective Calvano, trying to help and explaining that he saw a suspicious man watching the children in the park, Calvano decides Martin probably committed both crimes, case closed. Noni decides otherwise, and makes sure Martin is not railroaded. As a well-loved retired teacher, she has lots of friends in high places. Maggie, too, is determined to prove the young woman was murdered, and to find her killer.
There are other series featuring crime-solving ghosts, and they are usually entertaining, but I find Kevin Fahey especially appealing. He knows he screwed up his life, but his heart is good and he sincerely wants redemption. He's no angel -- he gets miffed when a handsome doctor hits on Maggie, and he sits in interview rooms and makes faces at Detective Calvano just for fun, but that makes him even more engaging. This is the second book in the Dead Detective Mystery series, after DESOLUTE ANGEL, and while I know Kevin will redeem himself and eventually go into the light, I hope it's not any time soon.
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