Mangrove Bayou by Stephen Morrill

Mangrove Bayou by Stephen Morrill
Publisher: Untreed Reads
Genre: Suspense/Mystery, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (163 pages)
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Troy Adam, mixed-race, ex-Army, and northern-born, is fired from his job as a Tampa cop. Looking for work, Adam finds himself in Mangrove Bayou, a small gulf coast Florida town located south of Naples and in the midst of the Ten Thousand Islands/Everglades National Park region. In short order he’s hired, on probation, as Mangrove Bayou’s new police chief. Not much of an accomplishment, as there weren’t any other serious candidates, but Adam intends to show his worth.

No sooner does he arrive than a prominent citizen is found dead. Although the medical examiner rules the case an accident, Troy believes all signs point to murder. The town council doubts that Adam or his small department can handle the case, but Adam is determined to prove them wrong. As a hurricane arrives, Adam and his team are up to their elbows in storms and suspects, assisted (or hindered) by a collection of residents who redefine the term eclectic.

It’s never easy to be the new guy in a small town.

Troy’s character development was well done. His persistence was exactly what this case needed, and his intelligent approach to the clues kept me interested in what he would discover next. He felt like a real person to me because so much time had clearly been spent crafting his strengths as well as his weaknesses. The author did a marvelous job with this protagonist.

The cast of characters was extremely large. There were so many different individuals being introduced to the plot that I had trouble keeping track of who everyone was and how they knew one another. This also made it difficult for me to remember important details about the suspects because they were mixed in with so many other people.

The subplots were just as interesting as the main one. I wasn’t expecting this book to include such a wide variety of storylines. It’s difficult to discuss them without giving away spoilers, but I really liked how many different problems Mr. Morrill expected Troy to try to solve simultaneously. It gave the plot a sense of urgency that it otherwise wouldn’t have had.

There were some pacing issues in this story. The narrator spent a great deal of time introducing all of the characters to the reader. While the mystery did make itself known, I would have liked to see it show up in some way much sooner. It felt odd to read so many chapters about the daily lives of ordinary people when I was expecting to solve a case alongside Troy.

With that being said, the murder itself was compelling. I enjoyed seeing how methodically each clue was revealed. While I did figure out the twist ahead of time, it definitely took some work on my part to do so. This isn’t the kind of mystery that reveals all of its secrets easily. Needing to put in that extra effort is something I appreciate when reading this genre.

Mangrove Bayou is a good choice for anyone who enjoys tales set in rural, insular communities.

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