In her debut novel, Karen Keskinen builds an engaging mystery around her characters, the eccentric residents of Santa Barbara, California, who deal with the murder of a young girl in their city in very idiosyncratic ways. The first-person narrative brings the coastal community to life through the eyes of private investigator Jaymie Zarlin, finder of missing persons and champion of the misunderstood. As the story opens, Jaymie’s been hired to look into a murder committed in the waning hours of a traditional solstice celebration. Jaymie suspects just about everyone except the accused, Danny Armenta, a mentally ill young man found catatonic at the scene of the brutal crime.

A multi-dimensional psychological mystery focusing on the humanity of all involved.

In a refreshing departure from doggedly procedural crime stories, Keskinen doesn’t focus on weapons and timelines as much as personality and motivation. Jaymie’s investigation proceeds as she, along with readers, gets to know everyone from Danny’s poverty-stricken, plucky Aunt Gabi to the sharp-tongued oil heiress, Miss Delaney. Seemingly effortless, natural dialogue quickly reveals characters’ personalities without giving away their guilt or innocence.

Blood Orange is a multi-dimensional psychological mystery, focusing on the humanity of all involved. For instance, Keskinen gives Jaymie a fascinating backstory and an exciting, if complicated, love life. Readers will be intrigued by her reluctance to commit to devoted suitor Mike Dawson, the handsome deputy sheriff Jaymie clearly adores even if she won’t admit it. And they’ll definitely want to know more about Jaymie’s commitment to her lost brother Brodie, whose troubling story eerily mirrors that of Danny Armenta.

Keskinen makes sure readers care about her characters, and readers will enjoy collecting clues from the extensive cast and rooting for Jaymie to tie them all together. This she quite satisfyingly does, although it’s clearly not the end of the road for this private investigator, as Keskinen leaves plenty of room for further adventures.

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