First Impressions by Kate Calloway is the first in the Cassidy James series, about a lesbian private investigator hired to find out who murdered the most loathed man in town… by the prime suspect.
Cassidy James is our heroine, a former teacher who moved out to Cedar Hills and trained as a private investigator after her lover, Diane, died of cancer. Her best friend brings her the case of Erica Trinidad, a beautiful woman whose uncle was murdered and mutilated, which may or may not be connected to things like a break-in at the school (involving Nazi insignias) and a case of arson.
I did enjoy this one; the mystery was compelling and I enjoyed the way the main characters (particularly Cassidy, Erica, and Cassidy’s best friend Martha) bounced off each other; the escalation of incidents and the way it juggles mysteries of people’s pasts and the present conflicts works quite well.
The fact that both Erica and Cassidy have dead partners in their backstory (albeit under wildly different circumstances) surprised me quite a lot. While the deaths aren’t lingered on, if that’s a deal breaker for you then please bear it in mind. I would say that Diane’s death mainly seems to have left Cassidy James incredibly wealthy, which removes the usual motivator of “having to pay rent” from a private detective. But this does affect the tone! Cassidy’s pressure to succeed at the case is for the most part driven by personal satisfaction and Erica, which is quite a different experience to the books I usually read. In some ways, it actually feels like a hybrid between a PI mystery and a cozy crime mystery, in that it does the thing a lot of cozy crimes do, focusing a lot on the nature of the small town Cassidy lives in, the people she knows, and the food that she cooks. (I don’t know why cozy mysteries always seem to focus on food, but it makes me hungry, I can tell you that much.) The small-town aspect mainly manifests in everyone knowing each other’s business and being willing to share, and in the way that despite Cassidy having lived in town for three years she still feels like an outsider.
There were some aspects of the characterisation that I found really hard to believe; the villains of the piece are cartoonishly evil, and the supporting cast tends to be a bit one-note. (On the flip side, though, the kids are SUPER GREAT, I am very fond of Jessie and Mollie and would wholeheartedly endorse their crime-solving adventures.) Plus, there are parts of the ending that I struggle with, such as the Cassidy deliberately imperilling herself and Erica for the sake of her pet cats, or the author’s choice for who finally dealt with the murderer.
The prose is pretty good; there are some evocatively gross descriptions of corpses, as a fair warning, but for the most part it’s well-handled and the story manages to juggle high drama relationships with its mystery (despite all of the food breaks.)
I did very much enjoy reading First Impressions, and I’m looking forward to tracking down the second one.
TRIGGER WARNINGS: Neo-Nazis, attempted rape, attempted incest, homophobia, backstory dead lesbians
Susan is a library assistant who uses her insider access to keep her shelves and to-read list permanently overflowing. She can usually be found writing for Hugo-nominated media blog Lady Business or bringing the tweets and shouting on twitter.