“Wild Card” Michael Brandman is book three in the “Buddy Steel Mystery. Brandman shares background material with readers so even those new to the series will have any needed information within the context of the current book. The story opens with a shocking crime for a small California town. A woman’s body is found slumped over the steering wheel of a late-model Mercedes. A bullet fired through the driver’s side window results in splattered glass, bone, and matter throughout the interior. Freedom, California has a serial killer on the loose
This is a police procedure in a first person narrative, and the sheriff introduces himself. “I’m Buddy Steel, by the way. Actually, Burton Steel, Junior. But I prefer Buddy. I’m the nominal Sheriff of San Remo County, serving under my father, guarding the fort, so to speak, while he battles a serious illness.”
Buddy’s casual conversations set the tone of the book and allow readers to easily follow along as the plot advances. Readers hear what Buddy hears and see what he sees. “Traffic had been diverted away from the site which was causing backups and delays. I inched my way there with my finger on the siren trigger, sporadically blasting it as a signal to complacent drivers to move out of my way.” Buddy’s chatty style gives readers insight into his personality and sense of humor. “I’m hearing you have your hands full.” “You could say that, yes.” “What do you think?” “I think I’d rather not have my hands full.” His thoughts, strategies, and problem solving are revealed each step of the way. Buddy wants to oversee, guide, and maintain control of everything and everyone. While taking charge of some things can make him a target, in other cases, since he has “no skin in this game” he is “a wild card” and can maneuver more freely. After all, he says, “I’m a Sheriff. I know everything.”
Brandman paints a realistic picture of Buddy’s life including the small town’s comfortable state of mind along with the burden of its politics. “But it’s days like this… days when I wake up and realize that what I’m facing is the kind of mind-numbing tedium that inhibits ingenuity and saps energy.” Readers get the inside look at Buddy’s outlook on life, and his feel for his job. “My focus as an LAPD homicide detective was sharply defined, whereas that of a County Sheriff is all over the map.” Buddy has jurisdiction over everything from public beach access and coastal preservation to political corruption, drug running, bribery, and the unusual murders. Of course, Buddy must not forget about the Russians who think everyone is for sale. Brandman fully develops each story line and intertwines intrigue with everyday activities.
Brandman’s vivid descriptions bring out the character of the town and the land. “The lengthy shoreline was an erratic blend of small inlets, hidden coves, massive dunes, stretches of immaculate beachfront, and a mansion the size of a small country. It was reached by a palm tree-lined beachfront road that abutted the coast, separated from it by eight-foot-tall wrought iron fencing with barbed wire strung along the top.”
“Wild Card” was quick to read and very enjoyable. I was given a review copy of “Wild Card” by Michael Brandman, Poisoned Pen Press, and Ingram Publisher Services. I like this series it is not just a “formula” series. Brandman moves both friends and family along in the storyline. In the end, Buddy questions his past, his present, and his future, but finds no easy answers. “When I agreed to come here I had no idea what I was in for.” Will he return to San Remo County? “It’s likely. But not certain.” I cannot wait to see where the next chapter in Buddy’s life takes him.