A.R. Baumann’s debut crime novel, Under a Cloud of Rain (January 2016), shows her love for her birth city. Set in Houston, Texas, this book is as much about the main detective as it is about the city of Houston.
A horrific opening called “The First Victim” details the dismemberment of a woman by a masked man. This gruesom scene immediately grabbed my attention. Next, the author sets the stage in 1970 Houston, just four months after Detective Nick Noelle and his wife separated. The oppressive summer heat and rain saturated grounds affects all, both villains and heroes, in this novel.
After the first victim is found near the bayou, bodies slowly start to pile up. All beautiful women. All somehow connected to the local Brunswick oil family. When it becomes clear that the first two victims are specifically connected to James Brunswick Senior’s son, Jimmy, Detective Noelle can’t help but wonder if he is the perpetrator or if he knows more than he says? However, the Brunswick’s have a tight defense surrounding them, making it near impossible for Noelle to break through and question the family. But, with a propensity for breaking the rules and getting the job done, Noelle manages to find the breach in their defenses.
Although I didn’t connect with all the characters, my two favorites were Nick Noelle and his new partner, Juan Lopez. These men are quite opposite of each other. Detective Nick Noelle, a veteran of the Korean War, is both a drinker and a gambler. On the other hand, Juan Lopez is a young married man who lives his life by the book. Both made a great team and will hopefully return in another book.
Baumann’s novel offers an interesting glimpse into Houston high society. The lifestyle and expectations of those well-to-do Houstonians juxtaposed with those outside this social circle added to the overall suspense. I liked how the author used these elements of the story to move the plot.
Although I found the story and characters interesting, this book didn’t grab ahold of me. I could put it down. In fact I did just that, many times, to finish others. Don’t get me wrong; it’s a good book. I’m not sure if this will be a series or not, but it has the potential. Sometimes the second book in a series is better than the first and I wouldn’t be surprised if that becomes true here. Would I read the next Nick Noelle book? Sure.
Reviewed by Libby Bridges
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