Aftershock by Judy Melinek and T.J. Mitchell is the second book in the Dr. Jessie Teska mystery series. I have not read the first one so this review concerns Aftershock only and does not reflect on the series as a whole.
Leopold Haring, one of the world’s most famous architects, is found dead on a site were his latest creation is under construction. Deputy Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Jessie Teska quickly assesses the crime scene.
From here on, you are on a rollercoaster that shows you the problematic collaborations with detectives, the consequences of economizing in the justice system affecting building maintenance, the prone-to-fraud workings of the Department of Building Inspection, and more.
Aftershock is well-chosen as the book’s title. It, of course, refers to an earthquake’s aftershock. That should not be a surprise. We are after all, in the Golden Gate area in California. But Aftershock also refers to recovering after trust is violated, how to go on after relationships break down, and the ability to summon strength to survive after shocking, life-threatening events.
The whole story is built on power struggles. Of course, our architect was murdered but what could be the motive? First suspects, the business partner and the wife. All stand to profit when Haring is out of the way. But there are more people who are not heart-broken by the news of Haring’s passing. One of them is the Union Steward for the construction site, Samuel Urias. But, despising someone is one thing. Killing is another.
As it turns out, Haring was someone who could not let go. As an architect, his part is done after the designs have been approved and the construction starts. But Haring showed up much more frequently on site than other architects. He was adamant that everything went according to his plans. A stickler for detail and thus a thorn in the eye of every supervisor on a schedule. Construction has a strict planning. Deviate from the planning and whole teams and crews are kept waiting.
While Jessie tries to find out why Haring died, she faces equal battles in her private life. Her boyfriend of eight months had envisioned a different life and in one aspect, he’s not wrong. Jessie, as intelligent as she is, lacks crucial social skills. She has little tact and did not see a clash in her relationship coming even though it was standing right in front of her.
Jessie as a character is extremely complex. Her meticulous examination of bodies, her detailed autopsies, and thinking patterns make this book a joy to read especially if you like true crime stories. But she has major flaws. She has blind spots for what matters to others and even if she figures out what matters, it doesn’t occur to her to figure out why. And that trips her up several times in this story.
There is a reason why it immediately clicks between people and why there’s hesitation. There’s a reason why an even at a bar after a disappointment seems like a good idea and a time to stop. Her intellect is testing and it fails time and again as Jessie cannot read people.
We meet the Haring family and it is a combustible unit to say the least. Jessie’s friends, Sparkle and Baby Mike, are the kind you want in your corner. One of the morgue technicians, Yarina, is someone I’d love to take to a hardware store just to see what she puts in her shopping cart.
As for the why, unfortunately, it is given away too soon. Or, maybe it is just me. But either way, as annoying as Haring was, he clearly had a reason to be angry. What he carried in his pockets set the ball rolling. The reason why I knew immediately is because we once decided to design our own house.
As much as I like the book, it has flaws and superfluous details near the ending that can make for difficult reading. Everything that is propped in the ending chapters ranging from motive to the culprit, from danger escape, and legal documentation, feels as if the authors wanted to tell their readers so much more but were somehow forced to keep their book under 300 pages.
I can only imagine what a better flowing ending Aftershock would have gotten if they went over the set 300 pages. Working out who the killer is, is not a rocket science. If you work in criminal justice or with cases, you just spot it. The motive is not immediately clear until you remember that Haring is a stickler for detail.
The death scene at the end is alas, unbelievable. We can probably argue back and forth whether this could have happened but I think that if we ask a building site supervisor, the answer will be, no. It is cleverly imagined though and if you just read it as fiction, you will enjoy the ride.
Aftershock is well written. It has a really good pace, the chapters are well placed, the main characters are supported by a brilliant cast of supporting actors, and the suspense is there. Let me know, after you read the book, whether you see the problems that I mentioned above. I cannot detail them here further without spoiling the plot.
If you like to read how deaths get examined step-by-step, how a medical examiner works a death scene, and how they have to battle the system, this book is for you. Recommended reading!