Last week I came across this random email from a woman in Brazil. She said she was in college and well, I'll let you read what she wrote. Nothing kinky though, if that's what you were expecting...
What is it like to be inside the mind of a person struggling with intense mental turmoil? Imagine how it would affect your relationships and career? We get to experience this by witnessing two years in the life of a police detective named Maggie Taylor in the refreshing crime thriller, “Who Killed Joel Larson?” written by an award-winning journalist named A..J. Dugger III in Memphis, TN.
The book takes place in a small fictional Tennessee town called Horono during the years 2020-22. However, there are many italicized flashbacks throughout the book. Since Joel Larson is discovered dead at the start of the book, these flashbacks are how we get to know Joel and witness his interactions with other people throughout his life and leading up to his sudden death.
The characters are presented realistically. Maggie Taylor is struggling with manic depression. Her self confidence is non-existent. She is a lean tomboy who wears her hair in a fishtail braid every day. Because of her mood disorder, she is failing at her job and her impatient boss Commissioner Mickey gives her one last case to solve. If Maggie does not solve Joel Larson’s murder in a timely matter, she will be fired.
The supporting cast consists of Maggie’s overbearing parents, Joel Larson’s family, and the former colleagues, classmates and caretakers for Joel, most of whom have legit reasons to want him dead. One of the suspects is Aaron Henson, a pedophile who lives across the street from Joel. Others include Kelly Patterson, (the pretty blond evangelist who Joel attempted to rape) Tiana Jones, (a woman Joel fondled at McDonalds) Maggie's secretive new assistant Damon Richards, and a host of others including Joel’s own brother Jackie, who once held Joel at gunpoint after Joel attacked his pregnant wife and made her miscarry.
There are a LOT of suspects. I only named a few.
Joel Larson’s murder may be the main plot but there are many other problems confronting Maggie. She is infertile, so she and her husband Jacob adopted two children. Maggie and her daughter Mallory do not bond right away. Just as they start to get comfortable with each other, Mallory disappears.
Maggie’s ex-boyfriend is now a famous journalist who is intent on using his resources to destroy her. Knowing her plight, he not only rushes to solve the case before her, but he humiliates her by exposing a fatal car accident from Maggie’s past where she carelessly (but accidentally) killed a five-year African American child named Donovan Mitchell. In the midst of the Black Lives Matter movement, the public is quick to turn on Maggie, who is a Jewish police officer. Her car is vandalized, she is bullied online, and the horror will not stop. The public views her as a racist child murderer.
In the midst of all of this happening to Maggie, we get many entertaining Joel Larson flashbacks. Since Joel's body was discovered during the prologue, these flashbacks are how we get to know him.
During his younger years, he ruins the kindergarten black history play, lifts up a nun’s dress, and finds other original ways to get into trouble.
Joel was sent to a mental hospital after trying to stab his father at age 17. We get a few glimpses of Joel’s time there, as well as his brief stint in a halfway house where he was released after knocking out the program’s director. Because of this, Joel was ordered to live in a house along where caretakers assisted him around the clock.
Joel suffered from schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, frontal lobe autism and pathological laughing.
We get to view Joel through the perspective of others and even get to know Joel’s personal feelings by reading his journal. Joel wants to have a good heart but his diagnosis gets in the way.
He is capable of doing heroic things, as he saved an old couple from a wolf attack and saved the life of a friend suffering from a seizure.
Still, he was rejected by a sex worker, he has racist outbursts, he has physically attacked a lot of people (including his dentist), he obsesses over women, he has tried to rape women, etc. Joel’s only friends at the time of his death were his pet turtle and the animals in the forest near his home.
However, not only was Joel on the road to redemption when he was killed, but we also find out the understandable root of his anger later in the novel. By the end of the story, you will definitely feel sorry for him.
I highly recommend this book. Not only is the story constantly moving forward and keeping you on edge, but the author writes in a straightforward way. Mr. Dugger paints a picture with his words so well that it’s like watching a movie. You can picture everything you read. The characters are well developed and realistic. Unlike other authors, he doesn’t waste time spending entire chapters focusing on character development. We get to know the suspects primarily when they are interrogated by Maggie, or in their interactions with Joel and Maggie.
One minor character, for example, reluctantly becomes a hitman for a crime boss because it’s the quickest way he can get money to save his dying son. Another minor character was molested at a young age and copes by joining a Satanic cult. These are plots that could be novels of their own. Mr. Dugger has a wide imagination. You may think reading this that some of these subplots sound random, but trust me they are not. Everything adds up and ties into the main plot.
The pacing is well done. The story moves quickly in perpetual motion. Even when the action slows down a bit, it’s never boring and still leads you to the next inevitable shocker. The book's conclusion was quite a surprise and left me wanting more! Fans of this book will definitely desire a sequel.
I finished this entire novel in two days. The cliff hangers and constant plot twists made this one roller coaster ride of an experience. This is the best book I have read in a long time.