Local novelist sets murder mystery in Florida

Elizabethtown-based author T.J. Brearton’s latest novel, “Dead Gone,” is a procedural set in southwest Florida.

Brand-new Special Agent Tom Lange of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement is called to Rookery Bay, Naples, where a decomposing body has been discovered by kayakers. Initially, the corpse is the focus of various overlapping enforcement agencies – state, county and municipal — guarding their turf, and it’s unclear to everyone who “owns” the case.

Soon, however, the job of identifying the corpse, determining the cause of death and tracking down the murderer belongs to Lange and his supervisor, Lauren Blythe.

Lange, inexperienced and impatient, sometimes follows his own trail without telling Blythe what he’s doing. It gets him in trouble and almost thrown off the case.

But it also gets him the identity of the corpse. Via the internet, he is contacted by Sasha, who identifies the body as Carrie Hobson. Sasha is a dancer at Hush, a bar in Tampa where Hobson also worked. When Lange tells Blythe the name of the victim, Blythe is more angry that he’d gone alone to interview a witness than pleased he’d discovered her identity. So part of this story is the bumpy relationship between Lange and Blythe.

In the office of the county medical examiner, Dr. Ward, Lange discovers that Carrie Hobson was killed, and probably murdered, by a blow to the head. The author spends a lot of time detailing the autopsy, the process familiar to those of us who watch “CSI.” But the prominence given to the medical examiner foreshadows a later involvement that won’t be described here — only to say that it is done skillfully.

“Dead Gone” has some subplots, too. Lange’s brother Nick has a gambling problem that involves him with predictably nasty people. Nick is a real estate agent whose life is all surface, no substance, and who depends on his more stable brother to bail him out. But there’s another, surprising part of his life related to the mystery surrounding the Carrie Hobson’s death.

Lange also inserts himself into a domestic violence situation in his neighborhood that is not solvable, and has painful consequences. It is not clear whether Lange protects the woman because he is a cop, a neighbor or just a nice guy.

But helping the woman and her daughter from the abusive boyfriend introduces an interestingcharacter, Vance. Vance is a typical Florida relocated resident — retired military with time on his hands, living in Naples, which keeps attracting more northerners every day. In a future novel, perhaps his backstory will be developed and his role expanded.

Eventually, the various threads of Brearton’s story are brought together. The history that Lauren Blythe had with the medical examiner, as well as the narcotics detectives from Tampa, becomes clear, if not completely satisfying.

The murder is solved, though not before another violent death occurs. And there is a suggestion that Special Agent Lange might be finding some romance while he continues to work in Florida.

Tom Lange is an interesting character. In “Dead Gone” his judgment is more intuitive than evidence-driven, and his treatment of colleagues would earn him time in a human resources workshop. But if he grows as a person and a detective in future novels, it will be good reading.

Brearton, in his ninth book, continues to reward and improve.