Europa, 416 pages, $18
Lt. Bill Warren is a mess. His wife left him, his seven-year-old son, Mike, has been diagnosed with “the mental capacity of a three-year-old,” he’s lonely, his emotions come to a fast boil, and he is the temporary chief of the Barnstable, Massachusetts police force. Oh, and there’s a serial killer wandering around doing despicable things to young boys before killing them. Perhaps that’s enough to stop you from picking up “Lesser Evils,” but I hope not. This book is a mighty good read on many different levels.
To add to Warren’s woes, the state troopers have been brought in to deal with the murders. Captain Dale Stasiak is a whole stinking lot of bully. Although he’s a hero for having helped put down a notorious criminal mob in Boston, he’s an enigma and overpowering presence in the smaller communities of Cape Cod. He and his sneering gang of troopers play rough and feel no need to explain much.
When the murder cases are taken away from Warren, he fumes but then puts his attention to other suspicious goings-on in the area. The husband of a woman who works for the DuPonts (yes, those DuPonts) is missing. Soon the woman and her child are also missing. Warren sees faint traces of something bigger going on in the Cape area related to the missing people. Warren balances this investigation with a surreptitious continued involvement in the murders, a growing desperation about his son’s disabilities, and feelings of anger and isolation.
Elliott Yost, the district attorney for the Cape Islands, a weaselly character, believes that he has “lived with an uneasy sense that a great turmoil was under way in the world and that somewhere west of the canal its distant surging could be felt in the air.” This in fact informs the whole story; that uneasiness pervades the community, drags at Warren’s life, brings evil and sadness to many. It is up to Warren and a trusted detective on his force, Ed Jenkins, to put names and faces to the evil and rout it out.
Besides a great, shifting plot, Joe Flanagan’s writing often rises to a level above. For example, “Fugitive smells rose in the air and spoke a secret language he shared with them: The dregs of discarded bottles, sodden clothing, coniferous decay.” Flanagan’s story also takes unexpected turns and at this stage in my life, with hundreds of crime novels read, the unexpected is rare and welcome. “Lesser Evils” gets an MBTB star.