Riptide, the latest in the Sam McRae series by Debbi Mack, launches its tough and sardonic protagonist head-first into a herd of sacred cows. Then it asks the reader not to get ran over by the stampede. The pay-off is a fast-paced, compelling crime novel that leaves the reader as buzzed and breathless as the Running of the Bulls.
The herd of sacred cows includes racism, illegal immigration, factory farming, human smuggling, xenophobia, overseas tax shelters, crooked charities and good ol' boy-ism. They're corraled just below the surface of a coastal city commited to looking the other way. Author Mack weaves these social issues tightly around a whodunit involving the framing of Sam's friend Jamila for the murder of a notorious local. The fact Jamila is black, not a local and a lawyer makes her an easy target in a town where all three of those qualities is a crime unto themselves.
Sam works to clear her friend's name, and unravels a larger criminal enterprise. Her investigation encounters the brutal conditions at a factory farm, the unapologetic mistreatment of immigrant workers, a double-standard for the rich of the city and so many conflicts of interest that nothing can be done about any of it.
If all this sounds like a bit much for one crime novel to tackle, you'd be right. Yet author Mack found a way to conduct each of these parts into a pitch-perfect symphony. From the first page to the last, the story never stumbled over itself. Mack's writing is tight as a drum. I slammed this novel in two days. I couldn't wait to turn the page.
Much of that has to do with the strong lead in Sam. She has a hard bark on her, but her sarcasm lightens the crushing seriousness of the mystery. Were it not for this balanced approach, the weight of the social issues in the story would diminish its readability. She's a hero to the story and the reader.
Get dragged under by Riptide. If you're not already a fan of the Sam McRae series, you will be after this read.