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Book review: 'Baby's First Felony' finds bumbling investigator in the hot seat

Sun Sentinel Correspondent

Baby’s First Felony’ By John Straley. Soho Crime, 272 pages, $25.95

It’s been 17 years since John Straley explored the adventures of investigator Cecil Younger. “Baby’s First Felony” heralds a most welcome, though flawed, return of the investigator for the Public Defender Agency in Sitka, Alaska.

Straley’s seventh novel in the series wastes not a sentence in picking up the mishaps of Cecil, who, in the best of times, was barely competent yet somehow successful in dealing with dangerous, and often pitiful, clients. While some of the humor that has earmarked Straley’s novels filters throughout “Baby’s First Felony,” Straley’s reliance on violence — some of it gratuitous — mars his return.

“Baby’s First Felony” begins not as a linear plot but with Cecil recanting recent events during testimony before a judge. But whether Cecil is a witness during a trial or giving his own allocution isn’t immediately clear, a technique that Straley uses to his advantage.

At first, it seems business as usual for Cecil. His workload for public defender David Ryder involves the usual band of miscreants. At home, he deals with his stressed wife, Jane Marie, and his 13-year-old daughter, Blossom, who is dealing with her own teenage drama.

But then Cecil finds himself deep in the middle of the meth trade. Before you can say “breaking bad,” Blossom is kidnapped by a local meth dealer who tells Cecil that to save his daughter he has to kill his client, Sherri Gault, so she won’t testify against a local drug boss. There’s also the matter of a bag filled with drug money that Cecil is holding and a drug mule’s murder that Cecil witnessed. Cecil attempts to handle the situation himself because he mistrusts some of the local cops.

The dark, dank and dirty Sitka proves the right metaphor for the way Cecil’s life spirals out of control. While believable, the plot becomes more violent as Cecil tries to save his daughter.

The title comes from a self-help book that David has worked on for years as a rules guide for their “intellectually challenged criminals,” who are the only types they seem to have. Cecil breaks every one of the rules in the book, especially the section about stupidity.

Despite the flaws in “Baby’s First Felony,” it’s good to have Cecil back.

Meet the author

John Straley will discuss “Baby’s First Felony” with John Gilstrap discussing “Scorpion Strike” at 7 p.m. Sept. 11 at Murder on the Beach, 273 Pineapple Grove Way, Delray Beach, 561-279-7790, murderonthebeach.com.

Reader a review of "Sweet Little Lies," a debut thriller set in London »

Oline H. Cogdill can be reached at olinecog@aol.com.

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