I always love being in on the ground floor of a great series. I felt that way about Cari Hunter’s Dark Peak books, J.M. Redmann’s Micky Knight series, and Hank Edwards’s Critter Catchers. Cheryl Head’s Charlie Mack Motown Mysteries gives me the same vibe. Whereas Hunter’s strength is her action sequences, Redmann’s her characters, and Edwards’s his plotting, Cheryl Head makes the procedural part of policework her domain. It’s all about the investigation, and nowhere is that more apparent than in the second Charlie Mack volume, Catch Me When I’m Falling.
Charlie Mack thought her toughest assignment was going to be finally moving in with her new girlfriend Mandy or maybe taking care of her mother, starting to show the symptoms of Alzheimer’s. But that’s not quite it. Three homeless people, one of whom was Charlie’s mother’s friend, have been murdered at the hands of a particularly gruesome serial killer who likes to burn his victims to death. As she goes underground, posing as a homeless woman, she also runs into drug trafficking and problems with a rogue cop.
I know I said it in my review of Bury Me When I’m Dead, but I’m an old Detroit boy myself, and it’s always fun to see landmarks and things you grew up with in books. It really gives me a sense of place. But beyond that, Head does a remarkable job of balancing a large cast of characters. There are her two investigators, Don and Gil, as well as her office gal Judy, and Don and Gil are usually assisted by someone from the police force. Plus, this time there are a number of homeless people, including a trans hooker Gil becomes protective of, not to mention the rogue cop and the drug trafficking elements. But somehow, she makes her introductions at the right time and keeps all the principals in motion.
Part of the reason for this is that Head never stops moving. Her books are precision timepieces, always ticking along. You can almost hear her thinking: first a character bit, then some plot, another bit of character, a clue sown, back to the plot, start some tension between Gil and Don here, hook Judy up managing the girlfriend’s moving schedule and then they’re out of the way, then… I mean, writing these must be exhausting work because she and her editor have made almost every individual word work, applicable to either mood, character, or plot. And each word has to carry its burden to squeeze all that plot into just over two hundred pages without the reader feeling cramped or cheated. But you won’t.
I’m delighted to see that no matter how hard she and her characters work, they’re always happy to tuck in to a meal, however hastily. In that respect, Cheryl Head and Jeff Mann are culinary cousins. Where Mann’s food descriptions run to the Appalachian home-style variety, Head gets misty eyed over White Castles and deli take-out. Having often waxed poetic about pastrami on dark rye myself, I get it.
So, Catch Me When I’m Falling is a tightly spun mystery that will have you guessing right up until nearly the last page. Perfect for summer reading, this one is a worthy entry to the Charlie Mack series.
© 2019 Jerry L. Wheeler