The small North Carolina town of Parkland provides the setting for one of the earliest of this year’s Christmas mysteries, Jane Tesh’s “Mixed Signals” (Poisoned Pen Press). Featured again in this second book in Tesh’s “Grace Street” series are private investigator David Randall and his psychic friend John Michael Camden, two residents of the rooming house at 302 Grace Street whom Tesh introduced in “Stolen Hearts” (2011).
Despite David’s attraction to fellow boarder Kady Ingram, he finds the approaching holiday season marred by memories of his daughter, who was killed in a car accident. The stabbing death of Jared Hunter, who had shared Camden’s childhood at the Green Valley Home for Boys, abruptly interrupts his grief.
David and Camden find Jared’s body in the garage of his rented apartment. When Camden begins suffering flashbacks in which he experiences the violent emotions surrounding Jared’s death, David knows he must help ease Camden’s torment by finding Jared’s murderer.
David’s only clue to the crime is the fact that, one year earlier, Parkland police had arrested Jared for breaking into the Parkland Museum of History. His suspected accomplice in that crime, Bert Galvin, son of Parkland Herald editor Ralph Galvin, now resides in a mental hospital; but David believes Jared’s friend Alycia Ward was also involved.
Jared’s murder is not the only crime plaguing Parkland. Many of the town’s businesses have recently been burglarized. A would-be superhero known as the Parkland Avenger has been spotted at the crime scenes, often interfering with the activities of the local police.
David becomes convinced that the burglaries are connected to Jared’s death. Testing this theory leads him to a series of tunnels that were once part of the Underground Railway and that now may hold the solution to the crime.
Tesh’s “Grace Street” series continues to be marked by the same comic touch that characterized her earlier “Madeline Maclin” series. Her description of the Parkland Superhero Society in “Mixed Signals” demonstrates this talent as members Keltar the Incredibly Gifted, the Mad Shadow, Spiral Man, Destiny’s Arrow, the Hook, Free Form and Last Nerve all plead with David to discredit the Parkland Avenger because “he’s making it harder for the rest of us to be taken seriously.”
With its combination of mystery, romance and the paranormal, “Mixed Signals” is a book Tesh’s followers will want to add to their Christmas reading list. Even superheroes will demand a copy, if only to verify that they have indeed been “taken seriously.”
FTC Full Disclosure: A review copy of this book was provided by its publicist. “Mixed Signals” was released in the U.S. on Oct. 2, 2012.