In the third installment of Brad Parks' Carter Ross Mystery Series, the WASP-y, Coke Zero-drinking investigative reporter from New Jersey finds himself hot on the trail of.... a bear. Well, at first he's investigating a bear-sighting...in New Jersey. Then he puts his unsuspecting intern on the bear story so he can go in search of answers on a newspaper delivery woman who was killed in a hit-and-run.
The hit-and-run appears to be a straight-forward case, but a few details don't add up. And when the dead woman's sister approaches Carter claiming she was murdered, Carter can't help but start digging. However this tunnel he's carving out in his search for the truth may very well lead Carter to the end of his job or worse, the end of his life.
Returning with Carter in this adventure are his former intern, Tommy, and his now-editor, Tina Thompson. The sexual tension continues with Carter and Tina, while Tommy comes to Carter's rescue in situations where a white, middle-class man is deemed the enemy. Joining the farcical crew is a new intern and Princeton student, Kevin Lungford, a.k.a. "Lunky."
The unabridged audio version of The Girl Next Door is narrated by MacLeod Andrews, who has also narrated the first two books in the series. Andrews has a firm grasp on Parks' humor, which is a significant element of the Carter Ross series. Andrews is also in tune with the various ethnic and sociological backgrounds of the characters. Combine those two assets and, like me, you'll probably be laughing until your sides hurt with scenes like this one:
"'Excuse me,' I said, 'you haven't seen a bear by any chance, have you?'
He looked at me like he couldn't understand how white people managed to do so well on the SAT.
'You think I'm up here 'cause I like the view?'
'Which way did it go?'
He pointed down a narrow side street with a shaky finger.
'The one day I come down here without my piece and look what happens,' he said, shaking his head.
I looked in the direction he pointed. 'I don't see anything. I'm guessing it's probably safe to come down now.'
In his trademark style, Parks mixes slapstick humor and serious social issues to create a swiftly moving murder mystery. At book number three, Parks has certainly proved he's not a flash in the pan. The stories continue to be fresh and fun. Andrews enhances the entertainment of this series with an acute understanding of Parks' motives and purpose.
Readers will likely realize the murderer before Carter Ross; I believe that's Parks' intention. But by that point, they'll also want to know how all the twists and turns unravel themselves into a straight path down the home stretch.
Parks' quirky characters are seductive. If readers aren't careful they'll unwittingly find themselves smitten with this cast. I'm certainly hoping Lunky doesn't follow Eyes of the Innocent's Sweet Thing and make an exit at the conclusion of this installment in the series. He's a dynamic contribution to an already colorful newsroom.
In this season of cold, dark days, laughter is a great prescription for what ails you. The Girl Next Door will provide that and so much more. The audio version will keep you moving in your exercise routine, driving an extra block to hear just a little more, or completing your chores without realizing the time. Parks and Andrews combine to bring about 10 hours of sunshine. I'm sorry to see this combination ending.
The Girl Next Door is available as an unabridged audio download from Audible as well as in hardcover (ISBN: 9780312667689) and in trade paperback (ISBN: 9781250013408) from from St. Martin's Minotaur.
If you haven't experienced this series before and would like to see what I had to say about the previous books. You can find my Eyes of the Innocent (Book 2) review here and my Faces of the Gone (Book 1) review here. The fourth Carter Ross mystery, The Good Cop, is due out this March.