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Murder at Mardi Gras

This week, Don reviews "Murder at Mardi Gras" by Doug Lamplugh.

Once again, we have a crime book by a deeply experienced, retired law enforcement officer. Lamplugh was a police officer in Pennsylvania, then, for 23 years, an agent with the DEA and then a teacher in the criminal justice department at USA. He has set his debut novel in Mobile, in 2006, at Mardi Gras.

His hero, 36-year-old Detective William Robert Boyett, known as “Three B” since William Robert became Billy Bob Boyett, is called to a crime scene at St. Louis and D’Iberville Streets where a girl’s body has been found rolled up in a piece of carpeting. Investigation begins. The Forensic Sciences Team arrives. Blood and semen samples are taken. Lamplugh describes all this to the reader in detail.

He had, in fact, begun the book by giving the history of Mardi Gras in Christianity and how the celebration came to America. It is clear he knows how law enforcement works and wants to get it all in, but in his future books, he needs to trust the reader more, and explain less. He spends too much time giving us dialog like “Good morning” and “how’s it going?” He need not be as terse as Mickey Spillane or Robert Parker, but less would be better. When one cop is bringing another up to speed, the reader does not need to hear it. Nevertheless, my advice to the reader is to have patience and stay with it. Lamplugh does have a story here to tell and some of what he has to tell us is in its way new.

For example, on TV shows we see local police, if they are so inclined, calling in the FBI for help, perhaps requesting a profiler. In this story the locals know: “it might be weeks before the FBI actually came through if they ever did-” up to 12 weeks. They decide to hire a freelance profiler, but speed is not always the top priority. Even on a gruesome murder case, the police don’t work on weekends. An examination of a laptop stands a “good chance they could have it done by the end of the week.” A list of local hotel guests might take weeks to assemble. DNA, available on TV on CSI in moments, “wouldn’t be available for several weeks and possibly months.”

Three B, a good detective, makes some progress and has a suspect, but he is transferred and replaced by Billy Zindell, an officer famous for his sloth. Hard-working police loathe these slugs. The case goes cold for 15 years until Boyett is returned to the homicide squad and goes back to work. This book reads sometimes like true crime fiction and sometimes like an official report in which nothing can be omitted but comes fully alive during the lengthy confession of the killer. The demented, deranged maniac describes his actions vividly. After all, he was there!

Don Noble , Ph. D. Chapel Hill, Prof of English, Emeritus, taught American literature at UA for 32 years. He has been the host of the APTV literary interview show "Bookmark" since 1988 and has broadcast a weekly book review for APR since November of 2001, so far about 850 reviews. Noble is the editor of four anthologies of Alabama fiction and the winner of the Alabama state prizes for literary scholarship, service to the humanities and the Governor's Arts Award.