My Favorite Free Mystery

It was a cold Saturday afternoon when my Kindle and I went looking for a good new book to read – and I stumbled across a great free mystery. Back on Murder is part of a trilogy about a police detective in Houston, and the publisher has decided to give away the first book in the series for free. Because it’s from a big publishing house, it’s a top-notch read, a fully-developed 384-page mystery detective novel. And it’s already attracting some great reviews, including a reviewer for The Weekly Standard who wrote that “The narrative energy is relentless.”

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Here’s the ultimate testimonial. This year I’ve started over 100 ebooks on my Kindle — but this is the only that I’ve actually finished! I kept turning the pages on this one to see what was going to happen next, and I felt invested in the detective and his hunt for answers. “The police procedure has a feel of authenticity,” wrote The Weekly Standard, “with extensive detail of weaponry and forensics, and the course of the investigation bears some of the messiness of real life.” They conclude that the author of the series, J. Mark Bertrand, ” is a major crime-fiction talent — one of the best police procedural writers I’ve come upon in years.”

The author spent some time learning his craft, and actually earned a master’s degree in creative writing before publishing Back on Murder. (Reading the book, I’d started to wonder if he’d actually worked as a police detective, because he seems to understand that world so well!) The book was first released in 2010, and it’s still Amazon’s #1 best-selling “police procedural” in their Mystery section. One Amazon customer even wrote that “This is the kind of book the Kindle was made for. The built in dictionary allowed me to quickly understand terms…and the note/bookmark feature allowed me to note/review my speculations on plots and twists!”

So if the author isn’t a former police detective, then who is he? I had to solve that mystery, so I tracked down the author’s personal web site. It turns out that he did in fact grew up at least close to Texas, in what he describes as Louisiana’s “humid swampland [where] he soaked up some atmosphere.” And he did eventually live in Houston, though his wife ultimately insisted that they move to South Dakota “after one hurricane too many.” So his police procedural came partly from his own memories of Houston…

The author describes himself as “a Southern ex-pat living far away…”, and part of what makes this book so compelling is there’s more at stake than simply solving the crime. The detective has been moved out of the police department’s murder investigation unit, and he’s got one chance to prove that he deserves another chance to rejoin their team. But as a reader, I was equally fascinated by just the vivid glimpses of the day-to-day life of a police detective — the behind-the-scenes banter, the hopes and the doubts, the support and the rivalries. It kept me turning pages, just to spend more time in that world, and to learn how it all came out!

It’s intriguing to see that there’s an audiobook version for just $2.99 — and that the narrator tries to change his voice for each character to give them a distinct personality. At least a few of the characters return throughout the series, according to reviews I’ve read. (The other two books in the trilogy are Pattern of Wounds and Nothing to Hide.) Some of the murder-scene details are a bit gritty, but I thought they just helped to give the story an extra kick. And in the end, I’d say this book earned the highest compliment that you can give to a mystery novel.

I thoroughly enjoyed it.

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