Book review: The Killing of Bobbi Lomax by Cal Moriarty

The first author to be published by Faber from their own acclaimed Faber Academy, Cal Moriarty may be the new kid on the block but she’s marking her debut with a brilliant piece of old-fashioned detective work.

The Killing of Bobbi Lomax by Cal Moriarty
The Killing of Bobbi Lomax by Cal Moriarty

Forget the internet, DNA matching and mobile phones, her two dogged cops, operating in the heart of a deeply religious American city in 1982, must crack a series of brutal murders through a combination of acumen, intuition, determination and plenty of legwork.

Moriarty, who also writes for film and theatre, is a former private eye… and boy, does it show. Not just in the acutely observed portrayal of police officers at work and the whole language of crime detection, but in the sheer dynamism of dialogue, action, suspense and plot.

In a gripping, sophisticated and cleverly textured story, steeped in murder and mesmerism, cults and counterfeiting, The Killing of Bobbi Lomax plays out through a fascinating converging timeline which adds tantalising reader insight and impetus to a series of events in the past and the present.

It’s going to be a ‘pig of a day’ for Abraham City cop Marty Sinclair. There have been two dead bodies in less than 24 hours, and now there are reports of another.

The sleepy, devout city in Canyon County, Idaho, is run to all intents and purposes by a hard-line religious sect called the Faith and a gilded statue of their Prophet towers over the landscape, ‘guarding’ the city and its residents.

Two gruesome bombings have already killed teenage prom queen Bobbi Lomax on her front lawn, and local property investor Peter Gudsen died outside his new offices with a fragment of nail lodged in his brain.

As hard-bitten veteran Marty and his long-time Latino partner ‘Al’ Alvarez, a cop noted for his ‘soft’ approach, head to the scene of the third attack, they know this case will test them to the limit.

The third bomb didn’t quite kill latest victim Clark Houseman, a rare books and coins dealer. Hovering on the brink, Houseman is able to give Marty and Al a name and another important clue… a line from Alice in Wonderland.

Houseman will be the police’s best hope of finding out what linked these unlikely victims, and who wanted them dead and why. As a tale of mysticism, deceit, corruption and forgery unfolds, can the two detectives find the bomber before he kills again?

This exceptional and atmospheric crime debut was always going to be highly ambitious with its retro setting, literary themes and religious politicking, but Moriarty pulls it off in fine style.

This is thanks in no small part to an engaging and diverse detective duo, a marvellously Machiavellian and inventive mystery and, perhaps most important of all, a story that impresses with its sheer intelligence and readability.

And the good news is that this exciting novel is just the first in a crime quartet, The Wonderland Series, and Moriarty has already promised that the next outing for Marty and Al will be a pulsating prequel.

It can’t come too soon…

(Faber, hardback, £12.99)