Fostering Death: A Jesse Damon Crime Novel. K.M. Rockwood. www.musapublishing.com. 2012, 208 pp. E-book: ISBN: 978-1-61937-824-7. $4.99. Paper: order from firstname.lastname@example.org $10.00.
K.M. Rockwood did it again. She got me hooked into worrying about Jesse Damon and then pulled it out when I thought it impossible. Fostering Death is the second in this crime series. Steeled for Murder is the first. (Cf. my review here on June 8, 2014) Every time Jesse tries to help other people, suspicion falls on him, and his good deeds are viewed as proof of his crimes. The detective duo, Belkins and Montgomery, are on him again when he shows up at the funeral home viewing to pay his respects to his foster mother, the only person in his life who had given him real affection.
Then he’s accused of killing her. She was hit on the head and thrown down her basement stairs, but Jesse hadn’t seen her alive since before he went to prison at age sixteen for murder. He had taken an Alford plea, which means he acknowledged that they had enough evidence to convict him, but he isn’t a murderer. Twenty year later, out on parole, this duo of detectives is sure he’s guilty every time he makes a move, despite his having kept the terms of his parole and almost finished his three-month trial period of employment at the steel manufacturing plant, making him finally eligible to join the union.
Meantime Aaron, a young drug addict co-worker at the same steel plant, keeps pestering him to sell him drugs, when Jesse is working hard to stay clean and sober so as not to violate the terms of his parole. He’s afraid that Aaron is helping the police.
His foster mother’s widower, Mr. Coleman, tells Jesse to stay away, but when Jesse goes back to their house to see if he can discover the real murderer and finds Coleman on the ground, unable to get up, Jesse helps him into the house, makes him a cup of tea and some soup. The house is too cold, so he calls the gas company to learn that the heat is off because the bill was never paid. He gets Mr. Coleman to sign a check for the amount owed, and then he hurries to get the check in before the deadline so the gas can be turned on again. He calls a neighbor woman to look after Mr. Coleman, but she’s suspicious of him, and then the cops are after him again. All his good intentions backfire and make him look bad.
Kelly, his new girlfriend, as he hopes, has a drinking problem, and she’s touchy and angry at him for “interfering” with her children, when she was too drunk to take care of them. Meantime he has found a cold and hungry cat at his front door in pouring, icy rain. He tries to get her to go elsewhere, but the cat won’t leave, so he takes her in, feeds her the tunafish he’d splurged on for his lunches, and fixes her a bed in his laundry basket, where she soon has two kittens. Jesse can barely pay his bills and normally eats peanut butter sandwiches, but he buys more tuna and cat litter. Then the strange cult group that has set up a temple next door claims the cat as their missing goddess. What are they up to anyway?
I’m struck by how Jesse is one of those “good” characters in crime fiction to whom bad things are always happening. Think of Louse Penny’s Chief Inspector Gamache, who is both good and wise, and how evil people, including his superiors in the Surete, go after him. I’m also reminded of Henry James’s advice for the best kind of novel plot: a hero/heroine who is intelligent enough to feel intensely and blind enough to suffer, and then has “fools” ministering to him or her so as to make those sufferings agonizing to the reader.
You won’t want to miss these Jesse Damon books. There are two more in the series which I’ll be reviewing later this summer (Buried Biker and Send Off For A Snitch). The fifth novel, Brothers in Crime, is due out this summer, too.
KM Rockwood draws on a varied background for stories, among them working as a laborer in a steel fabrication plant, operating glass melters and related equipment in a fiberglass manufacturing facility, and supervising an inmate work crew in a large medium security state prison. These jobs, as well as work as a special education teacher in an alternative high school and a GED teacher in county detention facilities, provide most of the background for her novels and short stories.