The Blue Kingfisher by Erica Wright: Kat Stone — and her wonderful wigs — are back for more danger

The Blue KingfisherThe Blue Kingfisher

by Erica Wright
Series: Kathleen Stone, #3eARC, 320 pg.
Polis Books, 2018
Read: August 1, 2018

So, Kat Stone, private investigator, is trying something new — she’s being herself. No disguise, no wig, no fake name (well, most of the time). There’s no need, the person she was hiding from has found her. He hasn’t done anything about it — but there’s no need to go to extra effort. But she’s not used to just being Kat Stone anymore — and that’s going to take a little work.

One morning, Kat finds a body — a body in horrible shape in the shadow of the George Washington Bridge. While waiting for the police, she recognizes the body — the maintenance man from her apartment building, Tambo Campion. The police are quick to dismiss the death as a suicide, but Kat’s unconvinced. Why would someone trying to kill themselves miss the water so completely?

This, of course, isn’t enough. So she ignores paying customers for a bit to launch her own investigation, trying to find more evidence. She doesn’t necessarily have to find the murderer, she just needs more evidence to get anyone in the NYPD to take her seriously enough to investigate his death. She plunges into Tambo’s life — partially driven by guilt that she didn’t pay him enough attention in life. It turns out that Tambo is a kingfisher, someone who finds jobs for people who aren’t in the country legally or who are wanting to stay off-the-radar, for a fee. This alone provides several avenues of investigation. But there are others, too, don’t get me wrong. All of these take her into all sorts of corners of NYC society — and gives her an excuse to dabble in different identities.

The NYPD requirement of “more evidence” is a trigger of sorts for her. It reminds her of the constant refrain from her superiors during her undercover days at the NYPD. They always wanted more evidence — even when she becomes concerned for her own safety, they say she hasn’t done enough, she needs more evidence to bring down Salvatore Magrelli. Between the Magrelli knowing where she is now, and this requirement, Kat spends a lot of time ruminating on the times she felt most threatened by Magrelli — and the things she didn’t provide enough evidence on. While she has several other things going on in her life, these are the thoughts that dominate her attention.

As interesting as the murder case is, obviously, it’s the Magrelli (past and present) stories that provide the major emotional hook for this novel. Even while she’s meeting with success at Kat Stone, even when she finds evidence of a crime — multiple crimes, actually. She can’t get out of the shadow of her past or the threat of the present.

I failed to get around to reading the first book in this series, after reading The Granite Moth, which really bugs me, so I can’t really comment between the ties between it and this book, but I’m reasonably certain there are some. Characters from The Granite Moth show up here and events from it are discussed as well, which is always nice, too many PI novels ignore what happened before. I don’t know (but I can’t imagine) that too many people from The Blue Kingfisher will show up down the road, but I’ll be happy to see any of them that do. But several events from this book will show up soon.

I remembered liking Kat Stone – I didn’t remember how much or why I did, and I’m very glad I got to rediscover her. Kat is clever, very clever when she’s not distracted. She’s resourceful. She may not have the skills of Lori Anderson or even Charlie Fox when it comes to weapons or hand-to-hand, but she’s got a mental toughness that’s hard to beat. And I really hope to see how she moves forward — because there’s just no way that what comes next is going to look too much like what’s come before, and I’m very curious about that. The New York she travels in isn’t the one I’m used to seeing (it’s not so different that I don’t recognize it) in Crime Fiction, and the way she sees the world is a fresh perspective.

The writing in this one — and this is not a knock on The Granite Moth — feels more disciplined, the plot more controlled. I took it as a sign of growth, that whatever Wright intended to accomplish in this book was clear to her and she executed things to that end. I’m almost more curious about what she’ll do next than what Kat will do next. Almost.

This isn’t a criticism, this is more of a wonderment: There is a lot of time spent on Kat’s affection for New York City. Do people spend a lot of time doing that, really? Thinking about how much they love/appreciate the town they live in (assuming they do)? Her leaving town was brought up once — indirectly — but it wasn’t like anyone was really suggesting that to her — and even after she made it clear that it wouldn’t happen, there it is again, her love for NYC. I could see it fitting in if people were actively trying to get her to move, or if she’d just returned after some time away (on a job, in self-appointed exile, etc.) — but given her situation, it felt forced. Now, I liked the way she expressed it, and I can understand her affection (theoretically, anyway, I’ve never been there). It just seemed out-of-place and/or unnecessary.

This is a good, satisfying PI novel with a protagonist that you will definitely enjoy. Like its predecessor, it’s a decent jumping on point for a new reader, and a welcome return to the world for someone who’s met Kat before. I’m eagerly awaiting the next book in this series already.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Polis Books via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.


3.5 Stars


The Granite Moth by Erica Wright

Granite MothGranite Moth

by Erica Wright
Series: Kathleen Stone, #2

Kindle Edition, 284 pg.
Pegasus, 2015

Read: August 23, 2016

Kathleen Stone (sometimes known as Kennedy Vaners, as Katya Lincoln, Kathy Stevens, or Kevin(!)), is a former NYPD undercover officer turned P.I.

You know, typing that sentence made me think of Orphan Black, and I’m now picturing Tatiana Maslany as our main character. Which absolutely works. I may see her in my mind when I get the chance to read the first book about Kathleen, and probably as I write the rest of this.

Where was I? Oh yeah, so the circumstances leading to the “former” part of her NYPD tenure are a little murky — maybe we get it all explained in The Red Chameleon and I just need to catch up, or maybe it’s left vague because Kathleen doesn’t want to share the details. Either explanation is believable. Not since Stephen J. Cannell’s Wiseguy, have I seen something deal so effectively with the emotional toll of a double life — although strangely enough, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, came close last season (I’m not saying there aren’t others, I just don’t know about them — feel free to fill me in in the comments).

Kathleen has two cases to work here, a personal vendetta to pursue, and some personal/personnel issues to deal with. Not a bad day’s reading. Although, really everything sort of fits in the personal vendetta category, come to think of it — but she’s only paid for 2 of them. First, she’s watching the Halloween parade, just to see her friend Dolly and other drag queens perform on the float advertising their club. While she’s watching, the float explodes — her friend survives, but not everyone does. The club owner hires Kathleen to track down whoever sabotaged the float. There’s a pretty good reason to suspect foul play, and that the police aren’t taking things as seriously as they should.

The personal vendetta is related to her assigned target in the undercover operation, who is still walking around. While following up a new bit of information she’s come across, she witnesses a murder. Another witness to this actually knows who she is and hires her to investigate.

Both of these cases involve Kathleen donning a few wigs (her wigs are almost as good as those used by Elizabeth and Philip on The Americans) and personalities, putting herself in harms’ way, dealing with grieving families (which might be harder on her than the physical danger), and facing some unpleasant truths about herself. Although honestly, the personal/personnel issues might be the most dangerous, come to think of it.

The nature of leading a double life — undercover cop, drag queen, upper class heir living a middle class life, etc. — runs throughout this book and gives you a lot to think about while doing so. Yet, Wright doesn’t beat you over the head with it, you could probably ignore it if you wanted to.

This was a well-written, well-paced and engaging mystery novel, with a narrator that I thoroughly enjoyed and was intrigued by. Kathleen is the kind of detective that Ellie Hatcher wants to be, and Lydia Chin would be if circumstances and ethnicity were different. I want to read more of her, soon. I hope I get the chance.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for this post/my honest thoughts. I’d like to thank her for the book and for her patience, I took too long with this.


3.5 Stars