Thursday, March 24, 2011

FM for Murder: a Pamela Barnes Acoustic Mystery by Patricia Rockwell

Published by Cozy Cat Press

Another unique foray into the forensic use of acoustics in aiding murder investigations. Who would have thought what a great tool this can be? I had the privilege of reviewing Patricia Rockwell's first book in this series, Sounds of Murder, this is the second. We have several of the same characters as in the first, but this time out the location is completely different. The book is written in two time periods as well as the present. This may sound confusing, but the times are well laid out, and essential to the mystery.

The story begins December 15 just before midnight with a late-night radio broadcast of alternative music, hosted by "Black Vulture", normally running from midnight to 4:00 a.m. During his patter, he mentions that he can hear that he has a visitor coming, the door opens, and the listening world hears the shooting death of the local celebrity, Black Vulture a.k.a. Theodore Ballard, on air, then deathly quiet as the mike is switched off. So here we are with a mysterious death and the shocked alternative music world as audio witness, right in the first two pages, the Prologue.

Back to a previous day in the week, December 11, we meet a dying carpet king, his son Daniel who is currently running the business, and the family lawyer Harold Vickers, among others. Now, what could a carpet manufacturing business possibly have to do with an alternative music disk jockey? There are a few secrets in this family, including Amy, Daniel's secret sweetheart and his desire to reunite his father and his long-missing and disowned brother before his father passes away. This is no easy task because they have never heard a word from him since he left many years before, but he asks the lawyer if he will look into it..

Next, we move into "present" time, which at this moment in the story is December 16. Before long, a pattern of timing will appear explaining why these three time periods are important, how they connect up, and eventually reach the present in all three parts. We are now at the home of the intrepid and feisty heroine, Pamela Barnes, who is trying to sleep in on this Sunday morning, while her dog is trying to wake her up. We also get to know her husband Rocky, and daughter Angie. Rocky is the main cook in this family and there are recipes in the back of the book. Rocky is also against his wife "sticking her nose in" when it comes to murder, akin to Columbo-like Detective Shoop, nor does he approve of Angie's relationship with Pamela's graduate assistant, Kent, and refers to him as "that hoodlum" and says he "looks like a weirdo".

Kent and Angie are into alternative music. They had been to a movie the night before, then at a friend's home where they were listening to Black Vulture's show and so it is that they also became audio witnesses to his murder, and called the police. When she mentions his real name, Rocky is shocked to learn that he has met him. He is one of the doctoral students in the English Department at Grace University, where both Pamela and Rocky work. Their friend Trudi is his advisor.

Of course, Pamela's mind switches into investigative mode, while Rocky slips into his over-protective mode both for his wife and his daughter. Since the murder was recorded, this time Detective Shoop asks for Pamela's help in analyzing the audio with her specialized equipment for any possible clues. Pamela, naturally, jumps at the chance to help. She soon has others helping her with knowledge of accents and guns, as well as her entire class as a project they jump right in to. Her research also extends itself into attending a Vampires Ball in New Orleans.

There is a blend in Patricia Rockwell's writing of pathos and humor, intelligence, surprises, shock and very interesting investigative methods. For all the switches in time, it's fascinating how she draws all these into one. Patricia, you totally shocked me with the murderer. I thought it was between 3 possible suspects, but no. Fantastic!.Again, I look forward to what's in store for Pamela, her family and friends, next time.

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