‘Santa Fe Mojo,’ by Ted Clifton

Vincent Malone, hero of Ted Clifton’s Santa Fe Mojo, was once a hotshot lawyer in Dallas, until alcohol trashed both his career and his marriage. He drifted to Denver, where he found his niche as a legal investigator. Then he developed gout, and missed too much work. Figuring a warmer climate would help, he headed for Albuquerque, and cheap housing. But in a diner in Santa Fe he saw an ad for a job driving a customer van for a bed and breakfast. On a whim, he applied for the job.

Vincent is a misanthrope, a man who’s seen the worst in people and has distanced himself from them. But the couple who hire him are annoyingly nice. He doesn’t know what to do with them, but he kind of likes working there as he gets used to it.

They’re excited to greet their first guests at the B&B, but something is wrong. The rooms were booked by a major sports agent who lives locally, for a group of his top clients and their spouses. But when they hold a meeting, it ends in shouting and threats.

The next morning the police come. The agent has been murdered. Vincent can tell that the sheriff’s department would like to hang something on him, but they quickly settle one of the clients – a major league baseball player. Security video shows the two men fighting in the agent’s front yard, a few hours before the murder.

Vincent, though, based on his investigative experience, thinks the cops haven’t looked far enough. They found an easy suspect and stopped detecting. The accused’s lawyer shows up, and he’s the accused’s uncle and Vincent’s spiritual twin – a hard man who got rich defending whoever paid him, using any kind of trick he could get away with. But he’s older now, and thinking it might be nice to form some kind of bond with his only surviving relative. At least he forms a bond with Vincent, who shares his bemusement at discovering morality late in life.

Santa Fe Mojo straddles the line between cozy mystery and hard-boiled, and does it pretty well, I think. The gradual softening of Vincent’s hard shell in the warmth of human friendship provides an enjoyable sub-plot. I enjoyed Santa Fe Mojo quite a lot. Cautions for language, mostly.

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