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Steve Haberman Henry Simpson's debut murder mystery, A Splendid Little Murder: Death on La Tempestad, occurs on an island off the California coast, where a killer takes the life of a visitor. La Tempestad is no ordinary island for it's part ranch, part hunting preserve, and part hideout for the powerful, who come to enjoy themselves in private. Neither is the murder ordinary. It's the most serious crime there in decades for it's the death of young Congressional aide, Gina Raines. Her mysterious death triggers the rest of the story and brings on stage two main law enforcement characters, Ed Lane and Miranda Bell, both from the Federal Police.
Who killed Gina Raines and why? The two set off to find out, and there are plenty of suspects.
Did Congressman Alonso Duncan, despite being married, have an affair with his attractive assistant, and did that somehow lead to her death?
Could Vito Garza, a charismatic farrier and Raines's island riding companion as well as a parole, somehow be the culprit?
Or could Duke Stockton, married playboy and the ranch's chief executive officer, based on the mainland, somehow sneak onto the island and do it?
Was there an accomplice?
Then there are drugs, a mysterious boat docking at night, loading, then leaving the island.
A further plot complication for the two investigators is the discovery of two leases, pertaining to the ranch. Does this discovery matter to the murder, or is it just an interesting local tidbit?
These issues and the twists of the story keep the reader turning the pages. For Gina Raines's death is a tangled business, as many a murder is, that Lane and Bell manage at the end to untangle, thereby solving the crime.
Among Henry Simpson's strengths: a nice ear for dialogue, a good sense of how to construct a murder mystery, and a nice sense of place in describing the island. One would wish, though, more attention to the editing, that the two lead characters could have been a little more unordinary,and that the author could have elaborated more on what the Federal Police are. All in all, though, a good novel with many more surely to come.
Henry Simpson, a writer worth watching.

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