Changing my tune on Whodunits: The Blue Kingfisher (review)

The Blue Kingfisher
Erica Wright
Polis Books (November 2018)

I’ve written a number times over the past ten years on This Is My Symphony of my dislike for mysteries and whodunits. Then I read one and rationalize that this particular title is an aberration–an outlier–a fluke. Except in the past two years, I’ve managed to read at least several. There was August Snow, The Bad Daughter, Girl Last Seen, Unbecoming, Girl Waits With Gun, and at least two Flavia DeLuce mysteries. (I also read a Tony Hillerman and John Grisham that I just never bothered to blog!)

*Cough* Methinks I do protest too much.

And now there’s another: The Blue Kingfisher by Erica Wright. The story begins with private detective Kathleen Stone out for a jog on a foggy morning along the Hudson River. Her destination is Jeffrey’s Hook Light, a place to clear her head because it brings back memories of her childhood when she had a bedroom decorated in a Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge theme. What wouldn’t have shown up in a little girl’s bedroom, though, is the dead body that Kate sees lying on the widow’s walk of the lighthouse. blue kingfisher

What’s worse? The body belongs to Tambo Campion, her apartment building maintenance man–he was quiet, kind, and hard-working, if not always timely. A jumper, the police say–but so out of character for the man Kate knew. (That, and Tambo missed the water.) And so begins her quest to find out the real story behind Tambo’s death.

We learn a lot about Kate as she tries to uncover Tambo’s story. As a cop she was a master of disguise and alter-egos, relying on Russian wig-maker Vondya and any number of personas to help her go incognito. She is Kat. Katya. Kacey. We know Kate once infiltrated drug lord Salvatore Magrelli’s inner circle in an effort to bring him down, but that her cover was blown and now she is hiding in plain sight, using disguises in an attempt to stay one step ahead of Magrelli’s henchmen.

Kate also learns that Tambo was a “un martin pescador”, a kingfisher–someone who found off-the-books jobs for immigrants. That a set of creepy looking masks line the walls of his bedroom. That the masks are a fertility totem. That a hidden compartment in each mask can hold  small pills. 

Could it be the masks that are the clue to Tambo’s death? Or was it his job as a kingfisher dodging immigration officers that put him at risk? Or maybe–somehow–Magrelli and Tambo are connected? Or are those tiny pills the key to his death? Kate gets a job at a Coney Island fishing tour boat company where Tambo secured jobs for illegals, hoping to get closer to the truth.  And in the manner of all whodunits, she does.

A testament to the strength of The Blue Kingfisher is that fact that, unbeknownst to me, the novel is actually the third Kat Stone novel–but it was compelling enough, with just enough backstory to stand on its own. Truth be told, I think I’ll go back and read the other two. Because here’s the deal. I think I like mysteries … I’m just very, very picky. No stale writing, no overblown tropes allowed.

And Erica Wright’s The Blue Kingfisher fits the bill.

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