I first encountered the author P J Parrish in Paint It Black, a book I recall as a fine, entertaining novel. However, it was only when I reached the end of The Little Death and read the inside back cover, that I realised P J Parrish is not an author; it’s the pen name of two sisters – Kristy Montee and Kelly Nichols – who collaborate at long distance and have produced a number of bestselling and critically well received books. Their efforts – judging by the two books of theirs I have read – are smoothly combined, because I could not see the join. Indeed, so surprised was I by the discovery that P J Parrish had a split personality, I went back and read chunks of the book again to see if there was anything untoward; any loose ends, rough ends, inconsistencies or other such signs. I couldn’t see any. That alone is impressive.
This book centres on a Palm Beach investigation by their character Louis Kincaid, an ex-policeman working as a private investigator. The character of Kincaid is no cardboard cutout, with plenty of his musings painting a thoughtful, troubled individual. Difficult relationship? Check. Life progression doubts? Check? But fear not, the characterisation does not mean the plot is below par. While it does not have the (excessive) twists and turns of some modern bestselling authors, there is more than enough to keep the reader hooked.
Louis is working with another ex-policeman – Mel Landeta – on a murder case. (Landeta is nearly blind, a sub plot I didn’t quite grasp the significance of. ) A headless body has been found, and Reggie Kent, a male escort, is the prime suspect. Kent asked Landeta for help and got two for the price of one because Landeta brought his friend along, too. Kent is in the frame because the body is that of another escort – called a “walker” in the book – Kent had a relationship, of sorts, with. The backdrop is the incomparable Palm Beach; home to busty blondes, rich rascals, buyers and sellers of sex and whatever, and movers and shakers on the prowl and on the make. Or, to put it another way, it’s a living example of capitalism at its worst.
“In Palm Beach it was all about form. From the undulating eaves of the Spanish-tiled roofs to the precise placement of the potted geraniums on Worth Avenue, everything was designed to please the senses.”
As Kincaid and Landeta become actively involved, the plot builds up nicely. Soon they have a theory that the killing was not an isolated incident, but one victim of a serial killer. However, the police leading the investigation are still keen on pinning it all on Kent. The good guys, however, keep plugging away. Louis has a strange sexual encounter, and he and Landeta meet a fascinating selection of local characters.
This book has some clever snatches of dialogue, but that’s not its strength. Although the usual suspects are in plain sight, this was the first crime novel in a long time where the unravelling of the plot was so unexpected. That’s not its strength, either. This book’s strength is the straightforward combination of good writing, characters and plot delivered in a no-nonsense package.