A murder mystery set in NE Georgia, USA, and featuring a reporter, Branigan Powers, who is commissioned to investigate a cold case, an unsolved murder of a wealthy widow ten years previously. She enlists the help of Malachi Ezekiel Martin, a homeless man who is both a possible suspect and a possible sleuth: the idea being that homeless people get overlooked, and hence see things that are concealed from the rest of the population. This is the first in an intended series of novels featuring Branigan, Malachi, and Branigan’s friend Liam, who runs a shelter for the homeless.
For 27 years, Deb Richardson-Moore was a reporter for The Greenville (SC) News, winning three national writing awards and routine recognition from the South Carolina Press Association. She was a wife, mother of three, and that suburban cliche, a minivan-driving soccer mom.
She then took over the religion beat at The News and enrolled in a nearby seminary to learn more about it. Her life was never the same. She left the newspaper and earned a master of divinity degree. Because jobs for clergywomen were scarce in her own Baptist denomination, she accepted a job as pastor of the non-denominational Triune Mercy Center, a crumbling, inner-city mission church to the homeless.
Deb is a graduate of Wake Forest University and Erskine Theological Seminary. She and her husband, Vince, have three grown children.
I do love a mystery! And I jump at every chance to review them. Lion Hudson is one of my go-to publishers for British mysteries; they are located in England. When The Cantaloupe Thief came across my email, I was intrigued. Here was a British published novel written by an American and set in the American South. Hmm. I had to check it out. What I found was a well-written page turner with heart and soul. With its setting within a homeless community and its characters real and relatable, not stereotypes, The Cantaloupe Thief is a recommended read.
Forty-something Branigan Powers is finally at home on the family farm in northeast Georgia. Her stint as a reporter in Detroit solidified her desire to live where she grew up. As a journalist with the local paper, Branigan is assigned the 10 year old murder case of the wealthy Alberta Resnick. The only unsolved murder in Grambling history, the case is a tangle of suspects and motives that leaves Branigan wondering just what was at its heart.
The Cantaloupe Thief is a classic mystery — a puzzling crime, multiple suspects and motives, and a determined and intrepid sleuth. I enjoyed all of that immensely. It also has a unique setting and supporting cast of characters. Unique due to the homeless aspect. Richardson-Moore is intimately familiar with the struggles of homelessness. She knows the inside story and she uses it with great effect in her debut novel. Each character is fleshed out, becoming not just a face, but a person with lost dreams and demons. In a world where we turn our faces from the homeless around us, preferring to believe they don’t exist, Richardson-Moore makes the reader really look into the faces and hearts of that world. While I really liked main character Branigan, the character of Malachi Martin is compelling. Here is an invisible man, a homeless veteran who makes it his business to puzzle out the mystery. The depth of his thoughts and feelings are wonderful to behold. The author also doesn’t shy away from the effects of mental illness and drug abuse in the homeless community. The mystery is finally solved with a big surprise I didn’t see coming (that’s a big plus with me), but I hope the stories continue.
It should be noted that The Cantaloupe Thief, while a christian novel, contains elements that some may find offensive — mild language and alcohol use. I found these things natural within the context of the novel, and they do not keep me from recommending this book.
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(Thanks to Kregel and Lion Hudson for a review copy. All opinions expressed are mine alone.)