For three weeks, part-time police photographer Alex Rutledge, despite the heat and sun of Key West, has been in a fog. Live-in girlfriend Annie Minnette, who left him to seek her own space, is now back and trying to stay clear of the police investigation into the death of her temporary roommate Ellen Albury. Rutledge is drawn to the investigation more from concern for Annie than as a crime scene photographer. It is as photographer, however, that he gains entree that same day to another murder site, that of Julia Balbuena. On the same day these two deaths occur, an attempted car-jacking threatens Shelly Standish. Rutledge's past relationships with Balbuena and Standish, and, as police believe, the strong resemblance between Albury and Minnette, make Rutledge a potential suspect. The discovery that a third murder victim has ties to Rutledge draws him only further into the investigation as both suspect and sleuth.
As Rutledge reconnects with other women from his past to warn them of possible danger, he reflects on life in Key West and his own life in particular. He sees people caught in the perpetual replay of casual sex, adrift and looking for a way to make their lives count. Mango Opera leapfrogs over many first-time novels to put Corcoran solidly in the company of the likes of Lawrence Shames and Robert Crais. While Shames's commentaries on Key West are more comical, Corcoran tends toward the "medium-boiled" style of Crais's Elvis Cole novels. His evocation of the Keys is realistic rather than poetic like Shames's, and unlike Elvis Cole who leaves trails of dead bad guys, the body count that surrounds Rutledge is not of his making.
In both plot and dialogue Corcoran shows a deft hand, revealing only what is needed to advance the plot while allowing the reader to fill in the rest. His characters are convincing in voice and action. They are frank, spicy, and thoughtful. Readers will shout a resounding "bravo!" at the end of The Mango Opera. Tom Corcoran is off to a very fast start on what is sure to be a long career as a fine mystery novelist.