Monday, February 13, 2023

"When the House Burns" by Priscilla Paton

The Minneapolis-St. Paul region, as one might expect, is in the backwash of unrest, both for the death of a suspected criminal at the hands of police and the pandemic just ended. Housing and rental prices are astronomical; just ask Detective Deb Metzger, who’s desperately trying to find a place to live, without success. She’s also mourning a potential love interest who’s marooned in Paris and might not be that interested to begin with. 

Her partner, Detective Erik Jansson, has a place to live; what he doesn’t have and sorely feels the need for is his own love interest. He’s divorced and sharing custody of his young son Benjamin. But he’s also a bit gun-shy romantically; his former wife, an attorney, sparked the divorce with an affair.


Metzger and Jansson are working for Greater Metro, or G-Met, a hybrid police unit that works both cities. They’re being booted out of their offices, as the source of the smell that’s been pervading the place has been identified as a broken sewer pipe. They’re working out of makeshift offices, their homes (at least Jansson has one), and their cars. 


They’re assigned a murder case – a real estate agent has been found gunned down in the driveway of a vacant home. And, of course, no one has seen or heard anything. Suspicion focuses on a homeless man who’d been stalking the woman, but he isn’t exactly easy to find. In the meantime, the two detectives almost stumble into what looks like unrelated events – an old unsolved arson case that claimed a life, the receptionist at the real estate office being harassed, another (and very attractive) real agent who worked with the victim seems to be getting her fair share of threats, and the land development firm the real estate agency had worked closely with may be up to its eyeballs in the wrong kind of business.


Priscilla Paton

When the House Burns
 is the third novel in the Twin Cities mystery series by Priscilla Paton. It’s well-plotted and well written on several levels. It’s an entertaining mystery. It tells you more than you might want to know about the real estate and development businesses. It’s filled with characters who don’t seem terribly fond of telling the police everything they know. And there’s an undercurrent of dark comedy running throughout the story, with some of the best stretches of dialogue between the police officers that I’ve read recently. 


The first in the Twin Cities series is Where Privacy Dies, published in 2018, followed by Should Grace Fail in 2020. Paton is also the author of Abandoned New England: Landscape in the Works of Homer, Frost, Hopper, Wyeth, and Bishop (2003) and a children’s book, Howard and the Sitter’s Surprise. She received a B.A. from Bowdoin College, a Ph.D. in English Literature from Boston College, was a college professor and taught in Kansas, Texas, Florida, Ohio, and Minnesota. She lives in Minnesota. 


With its almost quirky police officers and its strong plot, When the House Burns is both entertaining and a solid read. And it may make you think twice about what real estate agents and developers you work with. (It publishes tomorrow, Feb. 14.)




Should Grace Fail by Priscilla Paton.

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