Calico, a review by Joanna

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Lee Goldberg

Severn House

415 pages

Published on November 7th, 2023


I do love a good genre mash-up, but to specify which genres would give away too much – to get the most impact from this book it’s essential to avoid spoilers! I’ve loved this author’s Ian Ludlow and Eve Ronin series, and this starts out looking like another book about a tough jaded but dedicated female cop – then takes an intriguing turn with a 19th century timeline and highly likeable couple of characters making the best of difficult conditions. The mystery is in how they connect.

‘I don’t have to shoot you. You’ve already shot yourself. You have zero credibility. You got thrown out of the LAPD because you’re a drunken sex addict who can’t control herself. It’s only gotten worse since you arrived in Barstow.’
Beth McDade is a San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputy whose career stalled due to misogyny and double standards in the LAPD, and now tries to make the best of it as part of a small team of detectives covering the isolated towns between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. When called to investigate the death of an unidentified man run over by a motor home, she is puzzled by his autopsy findings and the fact that no one recognises him. Calico is a small abandoned town which became a local tourist attraction, but in 1882 it was a bustling fast growing silver mining settlement. Then an oddly dressed stranger arrives at the local saloon with an unusual proposition…
At the start of this, I thought it seemed too similar to the Eve Ronin books, and was dubious about Beth and her grubby hobby, but once I got an inkling of what was going on loved the twist and the sections set in the past. Goldberg is a former screenwriter/TV producer, and this shows in his scene descriptions and action sequences – this would make a brilliant TV series. Past Calico is vividly described – stench and all, and I liked all the classic Western tropes even if I don’t usually like Western stories. This was heading for five stars and a nomination for one of my books of the year, but I was a bit disappointed by some of the plot elements that were left unexplained. It’s unclear whether this is the start of a series which may rectify this – I do hope so, but in the meantime I’m rounding down from 4.5. Thanks to NetGalley and Severn House for the ARC.

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