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Blood Orange by Karen Keskinen
Review by Joseph B. Hoyos
Minotaur Books Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9781250012333
Date: 04 June 2013 List Price $24.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /

In the beautiful, lush paradise of Santa Barbara (SB), PI Jaymie Zarlin is persuaded to investigate the brutal murder of the Solstice Queen, high school student Lili Molina. A Hispanic schizophrenic classmate, Danny Armenta, has been framed for her death. The local police force is determined to crucify him. Jaymie must bail him out of jail before he is beat to death. During her investigation, she encounters a vast assortment of wealthy, snobbish elite; they all have dark secrets to hide, especially one secret involving a deplorable tradition of perversion and murder. The killer uses death and mutilation to deter Jaymie from uncovering their identity.

Once in a while I will read a mystery that completely catches me by surprise. Karen Keskinen's wonderfully delicious debut, Blood Orange, is the beginning of what I think will be a superb series. With its exotic flowers, shrubs and trees; steep cliffs and foaming waves; warm days and foggy nights; SB is the perfect Garden of Eden setting for an evil, devilish snake that murders the innocent. Indeed, appearances are very deceptive. Like the blood orange fruit that is beautiful on the outside, but horrifyingly bloody on the inside, the gorgeous citizens of SB have ugly, amoral secrets hiding within them--secrets that churned my cast iron stomach.

With its vast amount of soap opera-like drama and brutal, shocking violence, Blood Orange was a fast-paced read. Jaymie encounters many obstacles during her probing and, on several occasions, is on the verge of throwing in the towel. Fortunately, she has several friends (the horribly scarred Charlie who lives in a bus; a cleaning lady, Gabi Gutierrez, who's an illegal immigrant; and a handsome, macho deputy, Mike Dawson) who persuade her to remain. Thrown in to increase the adorability factor are several animals, including Deadbeat, an obnoxious parrot, and Jaymie's mutt, Dexter. There are also some cute children. One of them is Gabi's precocious, young nephew, Chuy.

Blood Orange has the kind of annoying romance that is often found in cozies. Jaymie is having an off-again, on-again romance with the stereotypical hero: the very large, very strong, very handsome police officer, Mike Dawson. She is constantly torn as to whether or not she actually loves him. These two will always be struggling with their emotions in order to keep the tension going for several more novels. After all, Jaymie wouldn't be the strong, independent PI if she became married. However, I believe she relies too much on favors from the wealthy in order to solve the crime. I was especially disappointed when she practically prostitutes herself with the wealthy, charismatic lawyer Zave Carbonal.

Karen Keskinen's Blood Orange will appeal to a great number of mystery readers. It contains a gruesome whodunit set against a beautiful, but deceptive, setting; a diverse cast of odd characters, good and evil; shocking, horrid violence that angered me; and a flawed heroine that is maturing into a more successful PI while learning from her mistakes. Blood Orange bore into my conscience, making me realize that life is not fair. I felt tremendous sorrow for the schizophrenic Danny Armenta. We learn that Jaymie Zarlin had a schizophrenic brother, Brodie; his tragic death still weighs heavily on her mind, causing her much guilt. She wonders if she could've done more to save him. We are sometimes quick to judge homeless people, many of whom suffer from mental illness. A portion of Keskinen's royalties from the sale of this novel is going to The Rosalynn Carter Fellowships for Mental Health Journalism.

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