At the outset of The Rembrandt Decision, by Seeley James, number 12 in his Pia Sabel mystery series, Phil Jacobsen, the murder victim, and how he died, is known. Why he was killed and by whom takes longer to unveil. Although James plays it close to his authorly vest with subtle clues, who committed the crime becomes increasingly obvious. The why of things takes most of the book to uncover.
Christine Jacobsen, one of the three narrators in this who-done-it, attempts to steamroll the investigation towards Al Devino, a relation, and also part of an organized crime family that wants to invade Deeping, Maine, a small, fictional town where everyone knows almost everyone else. Why doth she protest too much about Devino being the culprit? What further complicates the investigation is that her adopted son, Scott Jacobson, is the town’s police chief. Christine thinks Scott is still a small boy (she continues to call him Scotty) and that she can control him as well as the investigation.
Pia Sabel, of Sabel Security, is in town to investigate if Deeping is a good place to locate Sabel Research Center, a new wing of her conglomerate. Once Sabel offers to assist Scott with his investigation, Christine continually denounces Sabel’s help. Christine declares that Sabel will uncover the town’s “secrets,” even though no one else agrees or even mentions secrets. Christine originally provided the impetus for Sabel’s invitation to view the town, but once Sabel and Scott begin working together, Christine wants her to move on as quickly as possible. Why? What harm can Sabel cause the town by accelerating the pace of the investigation? Or more importantly, cause harm to whom?
Readers learn about Pia Sabel through the other two narrators: Isaiah Reddick, one of her advisors, and Scott Jacobsen, the police chief. Sabel comes across as extremely smart and observant. Very smart, Sabel seems to know something about almost everything. She can be likeable, but also an obnoxious know-it-all.
Although I enjoyed The Rembrandt Decision, it was slow moving for the first two-thirds of the story. For example, a long-winded conversation between Scott and Pia details adoption. This interaction helps Scott grow as a person/character. However, the mystery plot comes to a screeching halt. Similarly, an interaction between Scott, Isaiah and Kubari Eady (who are both Black), underscores white supremacy and how white police handle dealings with minorities. Rather heavy-handed. A third subtext involving unhoused/homeless people. The impression is that those unfortunate enough to have no place to live are either mentally ill or alcoholic, or both. These subtexts could have been treated differently and more succinctly.
The Rembrandt Decision may not be a favorite of mine, but I’ll read others in this series. I’ll also read James’s second series about Jacob Stearne.
I received a copy of The Rembrandt Decision in exchange for an honest review.
The Rembrandt Decision
by Seeley James
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