Flame Out is M. P. (Martha) Cooley's second book in her June Lyons mystery series. I recently enjoyed reacquainting myself with June and her upstate New York home town of Hopewell Falls. I read and reviewed the first book in the series, Ice Shear, last year and noted that this author had been nominated for several 'Best First Book' awards in the mystery community. I was also happy to get to meet Martha and listen to her speak about her writing and characters at the recent Left Coast Crime convention. The panel she was on was discussing big crime in small towns and placing the authors' protagonist in that type of situation. It was quite interesting to me.
June Lyons (or Juniper, but don't call her that) came home to New York when her husband Kevin was very ill with cancer. Both June and Kevin were FBI agents and they had one little girl together. As Kevin's condition worsened, June needed help, so she resigned as a FBI agent, and took a job with the local police department - a beat cop essentially. Her father is the retired police chief.
June is still working for the local police and she has certain things that she looks for on her patrol route. Hopewell Falls is a town that has lost most of the industry that kept the townfolk employed for so many years. There are abandoned warehouses and factories all around, perfect spots for nefarious activity. June notices a problem in the parking lot of one of them - a gasoline slick - and calls for backup and the fire department. She quickly checks out the building and is horrified to find an unconscious woman inside. June rescues the woman, but the building burns quickly. The woman remains in a coma and the authorities can't determine her identity. Another discovery is made while clearing the burned structure - a false wall with barrels stored, most containing chemicals that should have been disposed of properly. One barrel, however, holds the body of a dead woman.
The factory was owned by someone very familiar to June's father. Thirty years before, the factory owner, Bernie Lawler, was convicted of killing his wife and son. June's father was the police officer in charge of the case. Evidence was strong enough to put Mr. Lawler in jail, even though the bodies were never found. Have they just discovered Luisa Lawler? The answer to this ends up being very personal to June's partner, Dave Batko. His mother disappeared around the same time, never to return.
Once again, June's former colleague at the FBI, Special Agent Hale Bascom, is called in to assist. June is asked to work with Hale since Dave's personal connection to the case makes his involvement problematic. June and Hale delve into the doings of the town 30 years ago and find some very complicated issues. Some relate to Dave's extended family, some to the Lawler crime, and some trace back to June's father and his police work.
I like June and her friends and family. I'm even beginning to like Hale Bascom a bit. The setting of upstate New York is pretty unfamiliar to me, so the inclusion of local culture was very interesting. Dave's family is Ukranian and there were stories of their escape from Russia after World War II and the trials they had both in their home country and in the US after they arrived. The crime and investigation kept my interest and further info about June's family, her mother especially, was welcomed. Hale would like to talk June into coming back to work for the FBI, at least as a consultant, but she is very torn in her duty as a single mother and also as a new-ish member of the local police force.
So, was I pleased with the book? Yes, I was and I'll continue to read Martha Cooley's books, hoping that the next in the series will be published before long.