Blood and Dirt: A Russ Morgan Mystery
The first and most highly prized quality of a good murder mystery is its ability to pull me down the rabbit hole into its own world, its own gritty Wonderland.
Blood and Dirt: Check
While I’m down there, I don’t want anything to break the spell. The plot has to be tight and pull me along at a good speed, spreading red herrings and true clues on the trail for me to sniff, mull over, and make my amateur whodunit guesses.
Blood and Dirt: Check
Russ Morgan as a personality stands out from the crowd in this genre. Yeah, sure, he’s a tough, middle-aged recovered alcoholic (x 16 years), who was raised on a Colorado ranch and can handle a gun and buck hay with the rest of the good ol’ boys. But he is also an empathic aura reader in the most pragmatic of ways. He’s also gay, and a love story provides a backdrop to offset the tangled mystery sprawling full bodied across center stage.
“And there it was, the ugly, humiliating truth. ‘You’re right,’ I said, staring up at him. I had to swallow before I said the words. ‘I’m afraid.’”
And what a drama it is with plenty of mayhem and violence. Morgan is hired by one of a vituperous clutch of mismatched siblings to investigate the vandalism of a profitable marijuana grow operation on the historic family ranch. With marijuana newly legal in Colorado, this thriller comes with a fat doogie of insight into that new and still somewhat lawless, cash only economy.
Russ Morgan arrives at the ranch and soon enough the body count starts to rack up. I’m a fan of locked room mysteries likeAgatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express or And Then There Were None, and Blood and Dirt is one of those played out on a ranch as insular as any moving train or isolated island off Devon. Somebody at the dinner table done it…but which one?
“She leaned against the sidebar sipping her drink as if it were just another day in paradise. And maybe for her it was, even though her aura twisted like a rattlesnake pierced by a pitchfork.”
What is fresh about Blood and Dirt is the amount and quality of introspection by Russ Morgan himself. In a hard-boiled lineage of pained, wounded, and inarticulate detectives nursing their bourbon and their loneliness, feet up on their seedy little desks in their seedy little offices, Morgan wrestles with a different and less self-consciously existential sort of pain–that brought to him by his empathic abilities. But Russ is not one to brood in the gloom of a slowly darkening room. He registers emotion, thinks it through, moves it through, and acts on his intuition. He’s flawed but smart and likeable. I like him because of the way his gritty investigative pragmatism rubs up against his intrinsic and just newly re-emerging romanticism.
Told from the first person point of view, the reader is inside Russ’s world from start to finish.
So another thing I ask of good fiction is strong characterization–so strong that at the end I get that “never let me go” feeling.
Blood and Dirt: check.
This is an interview on July 21, 2016 with author Lloyd Meeker about the characterization of Russ Morgan and what he sees for this character in the future.
The video above is an author video I made for Meeker in 2014. I still think its cool!
Wilde City Press, 2015
The cover of Blood and Dirt. This book is available online or from your local bookseller.