The Evidence Room (June 2015) opens in the summer of 1989. We meet Dr. James Mason, the medical examiner at the Cooper County morgue, who is busy at work when a detective arrives unannounced in the early morning hours with a little girl. He’s brought her to the morgue for protection, away from anyone who might harm her. Why is she in trouble? She is a possible witness in the death of a woman found floating in the bayou. This opening scene immediately captures the reader’s attention. Was the woman in the bayou murdered? Who is this little girl? What does she know?
The second chapter jumps ahead, 25 years exactly. At the Founder’s Day celebration, Detective Josh Hudson is manning the booth at the fair, posting missing persons pictures. He returned two years ago to try to find his sister, Liana, who has been missing for years.
The story continues from here, focusing on these two cold cases: Josh’s missing sister and, more importantly, the case of the little girl who turns out to be someone named Aurora whose mother was murdered on the shores of the Florida bayou and whose father, a fugitive-at-large, is the number one suspect.
I really liked Josh and Aurora. They made a great investigator team! With both of their histories haunting their present, they had more in common than your average two people. Both were witnesses to a crime—Josh to his brother’s abduction, Aurora to her mother’s murder. Both had shady fathers who were at some point in their lives involved with the Crumpler family, a local “twisted redneck Mafia (230).”
I liked the references to voudon, though I wish there was more discussion to voodoo than mere references. Words like cris cris and juju were sprinkled throughout the novel but weren’t explained to my satisfaction. I also liked how the author incorporated alligators into the storyline. Those involved in the lucrative (and illegal) business of alligator hunting and those working to protect this animal was an intriguing side storyline.
The author really did a terrific job bringing the Florida bayou and its mysticism to life. The small town of 200 people, located just south of Tampa, is full of charm and intrigue, from the voodoo woman who runs the pharmacy to the redneck mob family. As is true with most small towns, just about everyone is in each other’s business in Cooper’s Bayou.
Overall, I wish this book had gone into more depth of the voodoo mysticism and the residents of Cooper’s Bayou. I would have loved it if The Evidence Room was just a bit longer. The ending seemed rushed and left me a bit disappointed.
That said, this book is one of the most impressive debut mystery and detective crime novels of this year. Harvey is certainly an author to watch!
Reviewed by Libby Bridges
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