A Will to Die: A Cliff Knowles Mystery by Russell Atkinson
In this latest installment of the Cliff Knowles adventure mysteries by Russell Atkinson, former FBI agent Cliff Knowles is deputized to investigate a suspicious "suicide." The victim is someone Cliff knows, and he wants to see justice. The police are preparing to close the case, as another assisted suicide from a local cult. Well, Cliff isn't buying the convenient suicide explanation, and he soon intrudes himself into the investigation.
Cliff manages to get himself deputized. Of course, along the way his temper and impulsive nature get the best of him. This lands him in deep water on more than one occasion. I think most readers will find the "ladder" scene fascinating.
Through some careless accounting over a small inheritance, Cliff realizes that something is fishy about the will of the deceased. He doggedly tracks down the details of the inheritance, and begins to unravel a shady scheme, and murderous scheme.
A WILL TO DIE might be the most violent book in the series. At one point, I was surprised (and displeased!) to discover the author had plans to kill off Cliff! (I won't say what happens.)
One of the author's real strengths is his attention to detail. I enjoyed reading the scene descriptions--some of which are amusing. Here's a fun example: The cult leader wore a "standard clerical collar under a brightly colored dashiki covering his ample girth. His face was dominated by a nose that could have been a transplant from an elephant seal."
I like that touch about the nose the size of an "elephant seal." However, I admit, I have trouble visualizing that one.
Here's another example of the detail. In the field investigating, Cliff comes to an old house: "The front yard showed signs of once having been a lawn, but the drought and neglect had since turned it into a brown dirt pile." Remind me to never have Atkinson over for cocktails. I'm afraid how he might describe MY house.
As with other books in the series Atkinson brings in geocaching. The first mention is when Cliff is too drunk to drive, so what does he do? Geocaching, of course! "Haines had kept him drinking longer than he’d intended. He didn’t want to leave his rental car there, so rather than take a taxi or Uber, he decided to walk it off. He pulled out his phone and fired up the geocaching app."
It turns out that the main character is quite a tightwad. I don't t remember that fact from earlier books. Of course, perhaps the author is getting to be a cheapskate, and I never noticed? Cliff checks into a cheap motel, making sure it has free breakfast. Cliff is careful to get his money's worth: "Cliff helped himself to the eggs, bacon, pancakes, cereal, juice, milk, and coffee at the hotel’s breakfast buffet. He had seconds for most of it. It was all included in the room price at a Hampton . No point in wasting the chance. He grabbed a banana to take back to his room as he left the lobby."
I especially liked that part about toting a banana with him when he leaves.
The author includes some interesting tidbits about Bay Area lore. I had forgotten that the Computer History Museum was "once the headquarters of now defunct Silicon Graphics, Inc., maker of one of the first high-performance graphics workstations." I remember Silicon Graphics!
Finally, a Cliff Knowles mystery would not be complete without a drone scene. Cliff uses a powerful drone with video cam to semi-legally surveil the scene of the suspicious death. "Cliff had learned how to fly an Acerodon, one of their drone models. Gabe had given him one as a gift when Google’s acquisition had made him a multi-millionaire."
All in all, I found A WILL TO DIE to be a captivating story. Russell Atkinson includes a lot of detail about wills, probate and the like; probably some readers will find the level of detail a little much. I thought the first half of the book was slower than the latter half. Of course, that is usually the case with police procedurals. It looks like Cliff Knowles is also becoming a Raiders fan?
Advance Review Copy courtesy of the author.
Photos courtesy of Unsplash.