When the House Burns by Priscilla Paton Review

When the House Burns by Priscilla Paton has a murder mystery at its center, but it’s ultimately a character-driven story featuring real people with real problems. Read my full review.

When the House Burns Synopsis

A Twin Cities Mystery

When death comes home, is nowhere safe? The quest for love and home becomes deadly when Detectives Erik Jansson and Deb Metzger search for the killer of an adulterous real estate agent.

A volatile real estate market, unrest in a homeless encampment, jealousies among would-be lovers, a case of arson—these circumstances thwart G-Met detectives Erik Jansson and Deb Metzger as they investigate the murder of an adulterous woman. The victim’s estranged husband has holes in his alibi. A property developer grieves too much over the death of the woman while his wife shuts him out. The developer’s assistant resents his boss and suspects that the developer was not only involved with the victim but is being scammed by the arsonist. A sexy young widow, friend of the victim, has past traumas triggered by the case and turns to the developer for protection. A homeless man stalked the dead woman and now stalks the young widow. All may hold secrets about the past burning of an apartment complex and the man who died there.

Before the clues come together, Erik Jansson is trapped in an abandoned house as Deb Metzger hunts for a sharpshooter at a remote construction site. The case will burn down around them unless they can scheme their way out of lethal surroundings.

(Coffeetown Press, February 2023)

Genre(s) Mystery & Detective

Priscilla Paton | Pub Date 02.14.2023 | ISBN 9781684920815 | 242 pages

Book Review

Amazonian-size Detective Deb Metzger of Greater Metro Investigations (G-Met), a specialized regional Minnesota’s Twin Cities police agency, has her desperate search for a permanent home interrupted when dispatched to the scene of a homicide. She meets her partner, Detective Erik Jansson, in the driveway of a house for sale where a dog walker had discovered the body of a late-forties realtor with a gunshot wound to her head. At Jansson’s suggestion, Metzger takes the lead on the case since she is the expert on violence against women. After ruling out a carjacking or robbery gone wrong, the detectives settle on the theory the killer is probably someone who was close to the victim, maybe a past or present intimate partner, given the murder seemed personal. Lacking much in the way of physical evidence since the body was exposed to heavy rains for hours before discovery, they begin the tedious process of interviewing the victim’s circle of close associates, checking alibis and looking for motive. They interview the woman’s ex-husband, her boss, and co-workers. While authentic, this wearisome process slows the investigation to a glacial pace, but not so the story since this is more a character-driven story than your typical plot-driven whodunit. At the heart of that story is Metzger and Jansson, two likeable central characters made relatable because they are real people with real problems. Besides attempting to avoid becoming homeless by finding a place to live before her current arrangements with a long-stay rental unit expire, Metzger is also lovelorn. The woman who is the object of Metzger’s affections has been in Paris for months, caring for her aged employer, and Deb feels the relationship is slipping away. Jansson has relationship problems of his own as he tries to come to grips with a recent divorce he didn’t want and desperately wants a woman in his life. The ongoing dramas in the lives of the two main characters keep the story moving and the reader engaged. Paton’s impeccable characterization impressed me. She not only breathes life into Metzger and Jansson, but offers a full slate of fully developed, interesting characters to round out the cast, and even fleshes out incidental roles enough to make the characters feel real. The other thing that made this book an engaging read is Paton’s wry humor that permeates the story through the dialogue and characters’ inner thoughts. She sustained this from beginning to end, no mean feat. It’s the kind of deadpan humor I most appreciate and fits the genre to perfection. Humor aside, there are of course weightier themes in the novel as Paton critiques topics like the lack of adequate affordable housing, homelessness, and violence against women. This is a well-crafted novel with excellent writing, witty dialogue, and plenty of humor. There’s a murder mystery at its center, but it’s ultimately a character-driven story featuring real people with real problems. When the House Burns is a worthy addition to the stacks of those who enjoy reading detective mysteries featuring a cast of compelling characters.

I received an advance copy of the book from the publisher for review purposes.

Book rating: ★★★★

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