Tahoe Blue Fire – An Owen McKenna Mystery Thriller

I’ve been reviewing Owen McKenna Tahoe mysteries for several years now and almost all have been reviewed in time for beach reading. However, Tahoe Blue Fire, with its snowy Sierra backdrop, is being reviewed in time for slope reading. If not reading while waiting in line for a lift at Heavenly, Kirkwood or Mt. Rose, or better yet, while sipping a hot buttered rum at a lodge, let Borg take you on another fast-paced Sierra thriller. Be warned, you will never see snow removal equipment in quite the same way again, especially those behemoth machines that grind through banks of the frozen stuff and then blow it off to the side to be hauled away like the waste it sometimes contains.

McKenna, the retired San Francisco cop who now lives at Lake Tahoe with his loyal and loveable Harlequin Great Dane, Spot, is handed one of his most convoluted cases with enough twists and turns to satisfy the most finicky mystery reader. As often happens with Borg’s stories, the reader is teased with a prologue entailing the setup for a murder, but it isn’t the first murder to come McKenna’s way. The prologued event remains snow-buried for some time. The first murder for McKenna occurs before he gets off the phone with his new client, a woman who is fearful of leaving her mountain home and thus giving him specific driving directions to her house in Squaw Valley, but while still on the phone, mid-sentence, he hears the fatal gunshot. Her fears were not groundless.

Tahoe Blue Fire is classic Borg: a mysterious note scribbled by the first murder victim, an arson attempt on the home of a famous football player who suffers from early onset of dementia as a result of game-related head trauma, a painting suggesting a Medici connection, at least two other possible murder victims, a world-famous diamond, Frank Sinatra and, of course, our hero’s steadfast girlfriend. The search for the diamond takes McKenna and his girlfriend, entomologist Street Casey, all the way to Florence, Italy, a location no safer for him than Tahoe. Whoever might know of the whereabouts of the jewel is now fair game for the really bad guys, and they suspect McKenna knows more than most. Borg is a stellar, no-holds-barred describer of a fight scene, whether it’s McKenna’s brawl or Spot’s (whose body and jaw size make him a formidable opponent).

What makes Borg’s mysteries stand out is not only his talent for creating Byzantine plots, but the always present personal connection he allows McKenna to find with the backstory — in this case, the relationship McKenna develops with the ailing football player Adam Simms. McKenna’s growing interest in what is being done for and by dementia patients gives this thriller depth and dimension beyond murder and mayhem. Tahoe Blue Fire, because Simms has taken to writing poetry, introduces the reader and McKenna to the vibrant literary life of the Sierra. By the time you finish Tahoe Blue Fire, you will feel every bit a part of McKenna’s Sierra community.

Also available by Todd Borg: Tahoe Death Fall; Tahoe Blow Up; Tahoe Ice Grave; Tahoe Killshot; Tahoe Silence; Tahoe Avalanche; Tahoe Night; Tahoe Heat; Tahoe Hijack; Tahoe Trap; Tahoe Chase; Tahoe Ghost Boat

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