The Blue Crimes is the first book in Enrique Laso’s collection of Ethan Bush Thrillers. Ethan Bush is a young FBI agent, one of the most promising, top of his Psychology class at Stanford and self-assured, or so he seems. He arrives to Jefferson County fresh from solving a serial murder case in Detroit and expectations are running high.
The story is told in first person from the point of view of Bush, and that is one of the most interesting aspects of the novel. If the actual procedural investigation, the process of solving the murders of two young girls that are very similar in details to a murder committed 17 years ago is gripping (and I particularly enjoyed the setting in small town America, with the prejudices and the difficulty understanding and fitting into the mentality of the place that it brings to the big city investigators), I found the insight into Ethan Bush’s mind even more interesting. Why?
Well, he is an intelligent man. He knows it and he’s reminded of that by quite a few of the characters he comes into contact with (sometimes in great contrast with some of the witnesses they come across). His intelligence does not always help him, though. Characters who are far less intelligent than him (the sheriff, local investigators, even his mother…) contribute greatly to the success of his mission. He acknowledges and admires the morality of some people (Jim Worth, a solid character that would make his perfect side-kick and foil, and I hope we’ll come across him again in the series), but he’s not squeaky-clean and has no qualms crossing the line of the ethically correct when he thinks it’s necessary to solve a case (not strictly for his own benefit). He has weaknesses that include his irresistible attraction to Vera, one of the witnesses, but also a suspect. He is somewhat obsessive in his methodology and has to be in control of everything, to the point of preferring keeping handwritten notebooks (in Moleskin, that become his trademark) as he does not like to be dependent on technology that could let him down. And during the book, he becomes as obsessed with running as he is with everything else, to the point of putting off the questioning of suspects to not disturb his running schedule. Running means more to him than the simple exercise, but we only become aware of this later on. (By the way, I am aware that the author is a runner himself and he has written non-fiction books about it so this would add to the interest for those who are keen runners.) Despite Ethan’s constant analysing everything and thinking non-stop (to the point of getting severe headaches although they could well be psychosomatic), he is not the most self-aware of characters, and keeps missing clues and hiding stuff because of his own unresolved issues. But those issues are what make him fascinating.
Ethan Bush is not the most likeable hero and has many flaws, and that is a plus for me. He is a man searching for explanations, about the case and about himself. And he never gives up. He’ll go as far as he has to, whatever that might cost him.
I’m not sure how challenging you’ll find the book if you’re one of these people whose main enjoyment is working out who the guilty party is (I did guess who it was early on, but I kept wondering if I was right) but if you enjoy complex characters, a solid story and interesting dynamics, I think this series could keep us guessing for a long time.