In this latest installment of Winnfred Smith’s John Stone mystery series, a savvy IT consultant follows a winding and troublesome trail from New Orleans to California as he attempts to find those responsible for a gruesome death.
John Stone is a computer guy with a knack for solving murders. Invited to attend the American Stamp Dealers conference by his wealthy, yet humble friend, Stone soon discovers the dead body of attendee Jerry Walters and also realizes a stamp collection has gone missing.
With help from his past business associate and former CIA operative Mac Stanton, his romantic sidekick Tracy Collins, and a host of others, Stone begins to unravel the victim’s long-hidden family secrets and comes to realize Mac’s personal link to the investigation.
Amidst death, shootings, kidnapping, and explosions, Smith weaves a character- and action-driven story. Whether lipstick marks or familial DNA matches, new clues arrive around every corner. Unfortunately, Stone’s own words of “We had all that information, yet it felt muddled,” seem reflective of the book overall. Beyond the central plot of mystery and revenge, Smith offers themes of extended family, friendships, and romantic partnerships, which dilute the narrative’s focus.
In addition, the Stone character has an ever-present connection with women. While finger pokes, love jabs, and stuck out tongues help define these playful relationships, the actions become repetitious. Likewise, as the characters travel between New Orleans and the West Coast, their frequent acts of unpacking, getting dressed to go out or ready for bed become cumbersome. And the final wrap-up also seems a bit contrived as key characters all pair off with relationships that are relatively new.
Finally, the narrative is constantly marred by incorrect, missing or inverted words, as well as early details that don’t match up when referenced later.
Such issues impact reading enjoyment, but those who enjoy the sometimes-overzealous complexities of this fictional investigative genre may find rewards here.
Also available in hardcover and ebook.