A Punishing Breed

Canis Major. (Detective DJ Arias, Bk. 1). Jun. 2024. 320p. ISBN 9781939096173. pap. $19.95. THRILLER
DEBUT Frost’s first novel perfectly depicts the cozy-seeming yet backstabby atmosphere of a small California liberal-arts college. She teases out the social stratification, snobbery, and hypocrisy right under the surface, which is quickly revealed when a murder occurs. The victim is Will Bloom, a powerhouse fundraiser for tiny Hesperia College. His many dalliances with other Hesperia staffers are well known but overlooked by the administration. Somebody had an axe to grind, though—actually, a Japanese sword, which was driven through Bloom’s half-clothed body. Grouchy, pessimistic detective DJ Arias and his put-upon partner are called in to investigate the murder. Arias immediately suspects Danny, a gardener and former Hesperia student whom he previously put away for 10 years for vehicular homicide. But there are plenty of other suspects as well, each of whom has a motive, a complicated backstory, and something to hide. Even one canine character has a backstory. While Frost points readers to the answer to the whodunit—and “the why”—about three-quarters in, they’ll likely stay with the story for “the how” and to see if big and little players on campus get their just deserts.
VERDICT Readers who like campus mysteries and intriguing, gruff detectives with a few redeeming qualities will enjoy this first book in a planned series.
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