This was my first foray into the work of John Lescroart, a mystery writer whose novel features his popular San Francisco private investigator Wyatt Hunt. A former cop, Hunt has established an agency—the Hunt Club—and still maintains good relations with the SFPD and his best friend, Detective Devin Juhle, an important character in the novel’s evolution. After receiving a text message inquiring, “How did your mother die?” Hunt begins a very personal investigation into his own past. Adopted as a child, Wyatt has never been curious about his birth parents—until now.
The anonymous texts keep arriving, prodding Hunt into a complicated, painful journey through a long-buried past, childhood trauma forgotten in the midst of a happy adoptive family. Learning that his mother was murdered and his father tried twice for the crime, Wyatt reluctantly pries open a Pandora’s box of dormant memories and terrifying nightmares that leave him plagued with sleeplessness, anxiety-riddled and driven to run every lead to the ground.
Turning to his crack team at the Hunt Club, a new murder casts a pall on Hunt’s sense of urgency—at least where his employees are concerned. Willing to put only himself at risk, Wyatt pursues even the most tentative information, piece by piece unraveling a harrowing tale begun in murder and ending with the infamous Jim Jones mass suicide cult in Guyana in 1978.
Armed with but a few names, a lost birth father, and the increasing sense that his mother’s killer is not far away, Hunt goes into overdrive. Oblivious to the personal toll his obsession is taking on him physically and emotionally, he is unable to stop until he unearths the random facts that eventually point to a finished puzzle. An evolving romantic relationship with his secretary/assistant is all that keeps Wyatt tethered to reality as he moves inexorably closer to exposing a cold-blooded murderer who has by now claimed three more lives.
Clearly, the Jim Jones cult massacre in Guyana is Lescroart’s centerpiece. The rest of the plot stands in service to that seminal event, Wyatt’s life unspooling backwards to the early days of the religious fanatic’s rising ambitions and gathering of devoted followers, including a naďve and impressionable birth mother. All the other relationships feel tentative, constructed in support of that tragedy, the lost memories of an adopted boy largely content with the life he has built returning to haunt him. Wyatt’s blossoming romance with his secretary seems nothing more than window-dressing, whipped cream that does not appreciably contribute to the story, except in perhaps tethering Hunt to his staff and life pre-text message.
Overall, I am disappointed. I expected more depth of character and sophisticated plotting from a writer with a large following. Instead I found a mediocre mystery that is hardly compelling. Interesting, yes, but not a page-turner. I doubt I will be investing time with this author again.