Linda Barnes continues the saga of her famous character, the female detective Carlotta Carlyle, in Flash Point, published by Hyperion Press, copyright 1999.
Carlotta Carlyle takes her exercise at the local YMCA playing team volleyball. Between that and swimming laps she feels she keeps herself in pretty good condition. She had been a police officer in uniform and was deservedly promoted to detective. She now runs a business as a private investigator and lives in a historic Boston home where she rents the top floor out to a “progressive artist” simply named Roz. She had also volunteered for the Boston Big Sister Program seven years before and now has Paolina, a fourteen year old Hispanic girl, under her wing and is trying to give moral guidance to her, along with some fun times spent with a responsible adult. Difficulties arise when Carlotta finds Paolina in the back of a cafe being “caressed” by a twenty two year old Hispanic man and she feels she should get Paolina away from him. A knife comes out, but before the situation escalates the local beat cop stops in the cafe for his usual cup of coffee and conversation with the waitress. The knife quickly disappears and Carlotta makes her departure with Paolina in tow.
As thoughts are running through her head as to what to say to her little sister about older men who flash knives around, Gwen Taymore, a fellow member of the Y-Birds volleyball team, approaches Carlotta and begs for her help with a lady that Gwen has been giving in-home healthcare to. Mrs. Valentine Phipps is a very paranoid old woman, and as it turns out has good reason to be. After a long period of questioning and getting to know Carlotta over tea Mrs. Phipps decides to have her install a new security system which she promises to install the next day. Mrs. Phipps wants a collateral for the thirty bucks towards new door locks and snatches a picture of Paolina from Carlotta’s purse. When Carlotta arrives the next day with the new locks she gets no answer at the door so she uses her lock picks to gain access to the apartment only to find Mrs. Phipps dead on the floor of the bathroom with a plethora of pills all around her cold, dead body. Clues in the apartment attest that it was not a simple heart attack that led to the old woman’s death. When the phones were installed they were made of a sturdy plastic that could withstand a drop to the floor and yet the phone had a crack in it as though it had been hit with a hammer. Another ominous clue were the spilled heart pills, the kind intended to be slipped under the tongue, buried deep in the cushions of the couch that Mrs. Phipps rarely sat upon.
With all of this and Paolina’s mother leaving with a so-called rich man from Minnesota, Carlotta calls her ex-lover Joe Mooney, whom it so happens is the chief homicide detective of the Boston Police Force. From that point Mrs. Phipp’s death is investigated as a homicide and Carlotta’s friend Gwen is arrested as a suspect. Carlotta receives a call from a man who claims to have been related to Mrs. Phipps and wants to know if there was a particular item included in her will, though he won’t specify exactly what the item is. The man is Bronson Hohen, the owner of Boston’s largest recording studio, and he claims to be related to Mrs. Phipps through one of his father’s previous marriages. Hohen hires Carlotta to find out about the will, the contents of the estate and who it is being doled out to. It turns out Mrs. Phipps left everything to Gwen who is still in prison on charges of murder.
Carlotta is awakened in the night to find her house on fire and calls up the stairs to Roz and her recent artist acquaintance K-Rob, warning them to evacuate. Certain that the fire was an arson she sets out to learn how the fire was set and asks an ex-fireman who is also a history buff to look at the remains. He is immediately reminded of the many arson fires set in the 1980s that had Boston’s fire department as busy as was possible. Carlotta’s house fire was set in much the same fashion. These fires were started by a lit cigarette tucked into a box of matches that was placed under a bag of Coleman cooking fuel. Their suspicions were immediately drawn to the perpetrators of the original fires but most of them were still in the penitentiary or long dead.
Carlotta visits Gwen, still in prison as the D.A. is calling for first degree murder. She learns that Mrs. Phipps had a book that was written in a type of writing that she did not recognize but the pictures were very beautiful and reminded her of the Bible. Mrs. Phipps had told Gwen that it was very valuable and she kept it in a locked box. Later as Carlotta continues her investigations and tries to rebuild her house as well as her romantic involvement with detective Mooney she finds out who K-Rob really is. He’s not just another of Roz’s conquests, but is actually an operative of the mysterious J.R.L. and her first real lead on what these escalating circumstances all point to.
I loved it! I had to take notes to keep the plots lines from crisscrossing too much but it was truly a pleasurable novel to read.
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