Stephanie Gayle: Idyll Hands

The third in a series about small town police chief Thomas Lynch, Gayle’s novel manages to be both charming and a straight up police procedural.  It’s set apart a bit from the norm (and I haven’t read the other two in the series, Idyll Threats and Idyll Fears), so I don’t know if the same parameters apply in the other two novels, but the narrators switch back and forth between chapters.

While the central character, as proclaimed on the cover, is Chief Tom Lynch, the other central character, a far as this novel goes, is Detective Michael Finnegan.  The story involves a cold case involving a human bone found in the woods 20 plus years ago; the case and the bone are affectionately known as “Colleen” and a local ghost story has sprung up around her.  When the rest of her bones are discovered early on, the detectives begin their hunt for the real Colleen.

The discovery also brings back memories of Finnegan’s missing sister, Sarah, who disappeared over 20 years ago.  He’s always thought maybe the bone in the woods belonged to her, but when that’s proven not to be the case, the book develops into a two case novel.

While I was never confused by which of the cases the men were working on – the girl’s stories are different, though both involve making a bad choice in terms of a boyfriend – I was sometimes confused by who was narrating the story, Tom or Mike.  While as men they are very different people – Tom is gay, Mike is thrice married – their voices on the page aren’t different enough, and that was my only quibble with this really fine novel.

Gayle is excellent at explicating small town life, and this novel is set in 1999 (and some parts in 1972, when Mike’s sister disappeared), recreating the unfortunate homophobia within the police department, the cluelessness of some of the men as they try and work together, and the successful manipulations of the all knowing administrator in smoothing things out and making them work.  In terms of both a workplace novel, and specifically a small town police station workplace, Gayle has created a very three dimensional and human world populated with memorable characters.

The stories of both missing girls are not just cases to be cracked either.  You’re drawn into their stories and are hoping, right along with the hard working men trying to figure out what happened to them, that there will be a resolution.  There is resolution, but much like real life, the resolutions themselves are sad, messy, and all too human.

Tom’s attempts to figure out his own romantic life prove that he is still figuring out how to function as a gay man in a straight laced profession, and he’s clumsy with his boyfriend.  Mike has given up after three wives but I have hopes for both of them, and hope as well that I can look forward to a fourth novel in what is a very well drawn new series.