The Juan Doe Murders by Noreen Ayres. Brash Books.
Great writing right from page one to the end. The Juan Doe Murders is the first book I’ve read by Noreen Ayres, and the third Smokey Brandon forensic mystery. Normally, I’m turned off by first person narratives. But the writing is so wonderfully concise that I couldn’t stop reading. Ayres describes forensic procedures in intimate accurate detail. Her descriptions of evidence collection and the politics of policing is spot-on, and her imagery is faultless. Here’s an example of imagery to die for: “Irvine is a vast, flat, master-planned and virtually antiseptic city so dirt-free you could drop a sandwich, pick it up, and eat it without a thought. A breeze could blow between buildings of the business park where the body was found and not lift a single leaf. It was not a place where you might imagine a man to be sitting against a white wall with a bullet drilled through his head.”
Notice the way her alliteration works? That’s poetry in action.
Ayres mixes narration with realistic dialogue. Not too much of either, just the right mix. Reading The Juan Doe Murders is a pleasure. The story flows effortlessly.
The storyline itself is a hardboiled mystery with plenty of dead bodies. Smokey Brandon is a county-wide crime scene investigator in California. Unidentified Hispanic John Does are turning up all over the place, one right after another. One common denominator is the lack of shell casings at the scene, even when the victim is a supposed suicide. How does one off himself with an automatic and not leave behind a shell casing? Also linking several of the victims is the same name on fake IDs: Hector Rios. And the gun-shot residue on their faces indicates they were each shot up close and personal-like.
What I especially liked about this novel were the details other authors often miss: an ME lighting a paper towel above the victim’s abdomen to ignite and disperse smelly escaping gasses released during the Y-opening at autopsy; behaviors of wild birds and other animals, including bloodhounds and guinea pigs; vivid descriptions of California flora; observations of various ways co-workers interact with one another on a daily basis and when under stress; the intended and unintended complications of interpersonal relationships that mess up innocent lives. Ayres takes her sweet time to tie together a lot of loose ends, and the story’s pace does drag a bit in the middle. But there is enough emotional and sexual tension to hold the reader’s interest as complications abound.
The Juan Doe Murders isn’t a perfect novel, but it is an entertaining and enlightening read. I recommend this book to anyone who loves a good police procedural.