Castro's engaging mystery set in post-Katrina New Orleans features protagonist Nola Cespedes, a reporter for the New Orleans Time-Picayune. With a nervy energy and the courage of her convictions as a journalist (“The job of a reporter is to expose and record. Period.”), Nola is quick-witted and aggressive, balancing the personal and professional aspects of her life, though sometimes confusing the boundaries between the two. Making her usual early morning run through Audubon Park, Nola is the first to discover a dead body just off the path. Her distress ratchets even higher when Nola realizes that she recognizes the victim: her former journalism professor from Tulane University, Judith Taffner. After making her report to the police, Nola rushes to the campus, hoping to arrive before the authorities.
Inside Taffner's office, Nola quickly copies the hard drive of the professor's computer, taking a few other items before stealthily exiting the campus. Not to be outsmarted by the television reporters gathering outside the professor's home, Nola scores an interview with Taffner's husband because of her relationship with Taffner, an excellent journalist though not a friend. She has enough background on the subject and first-person perspective to claim the breaking story for the Times-Picayune, but Nola is certain the secret to Judith's untimely demise lies buried somewhere in her former mentor's computer files and the two stories she was working on at the time of her death.
Calls to the detectives on the murder case leave no doubt that the police are unlikely to appreciate any of Nola's suggestions. She takes up where the professor left off: one story concerns the death of a local man at the hands of two cops outside his home after Katrina; the other is a piece on a Republican senator living on a waterside estate where his wife breeds championship thoroughbreds. Somehow these stories will lead Nola to the critical link, the reason Judith Taffner was murdered early one morning in the park. As the inquisitive reporter nibbles around the edges of each story, she manages to alert someone who wants her investigation stopped. Immediately.
Nearer Home might be an average whodunit were it not for the personality of Castro's protagonist. Cespedes is a contemporary woman with her eye on her career but her heart bound to family and friends. She is a Big Sister to teenaged Marisol and quasi-committed lover to the reliable Bento, surrounded by a bevy of girlfriends who keep her right-sized and share their busy lives with one another. When Nola blurs the boundaries between her obsessive investigation and her private life, her female friends come running, offering counsel and shelter, reminding Nola that she is not alone.
Castro mixes up the issues and characters, creating a believable mystery peopled with colorful and eccentric characters in a New Orleans still haunted by destruction and the opportunism of greedy profiteers. Nola may think she has the answers, but finding proof is a challenge that will take a brave walk into the lion's den among the power brokers of the city and a police department resistant to her information. Nola wrests what she needs from a grieving husband, a disappointed lover, a furious senator and the wife of a man made bitter by his blatant murder. From the post-Katrina neighborhoods of New Orleans to the lush lawns of a horse-breeding farm, from a college campus to an apartment torn apart by an intruder, Nola Cespedes gives everyone a run for their money, a welcome newcomer to the genre.