Debra Purdy Kong’s second Casey Holland mystery begins with two rather prosaic situations. Kids are regularly brawling on Vancouver’s Mainland Public Transit buses, and someone is hurling stones at bus windows. Casey, considered MPT’s best undercover investigator, is assigned to both cases. Another transit cop, Jasmine, has been attempting to deal with the recalcitrant youths and is not pleased with Casey’s involvement. Jasmine perceives the other woman as “Miss Perfect,” a notion Casey does little to challenge.
Casey finds herself trapped in much more serious circumstances when Jasmine is murdered, leaving behind a young son and many potential suspects, including an abusive ex-husband and casual boyfriends. When the brother of Jasmine’s best friend becomes the lead murder suspect, lines are drawn and relationships sour.
Kong offers a grounded portrait of Casey, who is unable to quell petty thoughts about Jasmine but begins to see parallels between the dead woman’s life and her own. Despite Jasmine’s perceptions, Casey’s life is far from perfect: she is divorced, estranged from her mother, and legal guardian to her sister’s adopted daughter. The stress of parenting, working extra shifts, and taking criminology courses means Casey had her hands full well before Jasmine’s murder, yet an altruistic streak won’t allow her to ignore what happened to her dead colleague.
The novel’s short, punchy chapters whisk the story along to a thrilling climax, while the characters’ relationships and rivalries provide a strong emotional anchor. Procedural details, such as the patronizing attitude of the police toward private security services, lend the tale authenticity. In choosing a transit cop for a protagonist, Kong has found an interesting amateur sleuth, and a mechanism to juxtapose criminal activity on a small and large scale. Casey’s complicated personal life, coupled with her professional aspirations, gives this series ample room to evolve over time.