A Kent Stephenson Thriller
Frank Martorana
VinChaRo Ventures LLC (282 pp.)

In this debut thriller, a fire destroys the research wing of a rural upstate New York cosmetic corporation’s headquarters, casting suspicion on the animal rights activists who recently protested at the company.

Kent Stephenson’s older brother, Merrill, Jefferson’s chief of police, enforces the law, and their misfit half brother, Maylon (nicknamed May-May), has been known to break it. Kent, a small-town veterinarian always in the company of his coonhound, Lucinda, focuses on doing the right thing, especially when it comes to animals. Kent once had romantic feelings toward Stef Copithorn, CEO of the cosmetic company that’s crucial to the local economy. Aubrey Fairbanks, field representative for the Hollywood-based Freedom of Animals Movement, is in town organizing a protest against animal testing conducted by Stef’s company. Kent’s attraction to gorgeous Aubrey is a professional, not personal, concern to the now openly gay Stef. The two women disagree vehemently  about the humaneness of animal welfare codes. When a blaze obliterates the cosmetic company’s research wing, suspicion falls on FOAM, and Kent feels duped—at least for a time—by Aubrey, with whom he’s begun a relationship. During Kent’s visit with his wheelchair-bound mother, June Stephenson Mays, the two discuss the fire and also the supposed suicide of a well-known local journalist. June does not believe the man—her dear friend—killed himself; she says it had to be murder, and Kent vows to find out if she’s right. He also questions her about his jailbird half brother’s recent activities and ponders their legitimacy. Kent finds more to investigate when a family member is apparently murdered. In addition, dogs in the town, disappearing occasionally at first, start to vanish in record numbers. Can Lucinda remain unscathed? Martorana produces a compelling story starring an engaging hero. The author also introduces notable characters like June, with her “matchstick legs,” “kittenish white hair,” and no-nonsense attitude. At one point, she tells Kent that May-May’s “got his father’s wickedness.” Descriptions are strong, such as the account of how police cars are clustered at a crime scene: “The lot was jammed with official vehicles parked at all angles, the way cops like to do.” Both sides of the animal rights controversy are well-presented. But the depictions of abused animals could be upsetting to some readers.

A vet with investigative chops and his loyal coonhound make an appealing duo in this origin story.

Review can also be found by following this link to Kirkus’ website.