Shaky Ground, Steve Stelle, 2011, B004ZGAXBG (Kindle e-book)
This is a murder mystery involving drug money and shady real estate deals. It is set against the back drop of the 1989 San Francisco Earthquake.
Jeff Burke is a process server and sometimes private investigator in Santa Cruz, California. Along with everyone else in the Bay Area, he is watching the World Series when the ground starts shaking. His house suffers minor damage. After he and his Bay Area process serversthe neighbors make sure that everyone is all right, Burke goes to the local mall near his office, where the damage is much more severe. Volunteering for search and rescue, Burke and other ex-military personnel (he is a former Army medic) understand discipline and organization, so they know what they are doing. This is in great contrast to a group of mall workers, who loudly demand that the emergency personnel (who are equally stressed out) find their missing co-worker.
There is nothing like a major earthquake to get a person wondering what life is all about. Burke decides to sell his house, and start over in Florida. Perry Harris, a local real estate agent, visits and everything seems fine. The police get interested when Harris is found murdered a few hours later, and Burke is the last person to have seen him alive. The next day, Harris’ widow, Sunny, another real estate agent, comes by to try and salvage the listing. Fueled by liberal amounts of wine, she tells Burke about their deep involvement in the local drug trade (an important part of the local economy), first as pot users, then later creating shady real estate deals to launder drug money. Perry is also a psycho, who tells Sunny to get plastic surgery one (or two) too many times. She is in no condition to drive, so Burke lets her crash on his couch. Things get weird when, the next morning, Burke finds Sunny murdered on his couch, and the police barging in the door.
Burke survives a murder attempt in prison, and is able to escape from custody. He reluctantly kidnaps Karen, another real estate agent, because he is desperate for help. She eventually agrees to help him, after whacking him on the head with a beer bottle, which knocks him out for three days. Can Jeff and Karen find the identity of the person behind everything, before the police catch up, and charge Jeff with the murders? Do they survive the scene where the guilty party takes them on a boat far from shore, intending to kill them and dump their bodies overboard?
This one is really good. The reader will certainly learn a lot about the California drug trade, and about what to do (and not do) after an earthquake. My only criticism is that the text could use a trip to a proofreader, but that’s just being picky, and looking for something to criticize. This will keep the reader guessing, and is well worth the reader’s time.