The Bird Boys

Tom Phelan is painting over the remains of a bloody crime scene in his office as the second Delpha Wade and Tom Phelan mystery begins. The Bird Boys picks up where Lisa Sandlin's debut, The Do-Right, left off, with Delpha bloodied and under investigation for another act of violence. Vietnam vet Tom is six months into his private investigation practice. Delpha is even more tragically layered, lucky to get the secretarial gig following her release from Gatesville prison after serving 14 years for killing a man.

Xavier Bell hires Tom to find his estranged brother, with little more to go on than ancient family history and a 40-year-old photograph. Bell's strange story gets more questionable as Delpha and Tom pry into his past. The Bell investigation and a few minor cases keep things hopping, but the highlights are Sandlin's characters and their constant striving and growth. Delpha is sharp and resourceful and, as Tom's reliance on her grows, so does the trust each gives so reluctantly.

Sandlin's writing is Chandler-esque, her descriptions divine ("a comet's-tail of trouble," "a hem that would ride up to her crank case if she sat down"). Set in 1970s Beaumont, Tex., the surroundings are wonderfully suffused with Watergate, pay phones, Selectric typewriters and a little Cajun flavor. With phrasing to linger over but pacing that presses forward, The Bird Boys will have readers racing to grab the first book and crossing fingers for more of the dynamite characters inhabiting this noir series. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review

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