Bad decisions have finally caught up with police detective Karen Seagate. Her drinking has destroyed her marriage and hurt her job performance. Still, she and her new partner, a young Mormon guy who seems to have arrived from another century or another planet, intend to track down whoever killed Arlen Hagerty, the corrupt leader of Soul Savers. Clawing his way to the top, Hagerty created plenty of enemies, including his wife, his mistress, his debate partner, the organization’s founder, and the politician he was blackmailing. When Seagate causes a car crash that sends a young girl to Intensive Care, the chief thinks he finally has his opportunity to fire her. But even the chief can’t believe what Seagate does when she finally catches the killer.
Big Sick Heart was awarded the Book of the Month award from Pacific Book Review in 2010.
Here is a review by Robin Chambers, author of the Myrddin’s Heir series:
I read Book 2 in this series before reading this opening book, so I had already decided Mike Markel was a master of this genre. This book confirms it. What takes it beyond the usual, clever ‘are you as a reader astute enough to pick up the clues the writer has artfully woven into the proceedings as you move towards the eventual solving of a crime?’ is that the author is as interested in the struggle of his main character, Karen Seagate, to solve the problems that are messing up her life as he is in her solving the crime in question. The interplay of the two gives the book added depth. “More and more these days, I feel like I’m in some kind of a parallel universe that makes even less sense than the regular one.”
Karen’s marriage didn’t work out, as “apparently getting older wasn’t part of the deal.” She cares desperately about her unhappy son, Tommy, who is growing away from her since his father got custody. Drowning her sorrows in Jack Daniels has turned her into an alcoholic. She knows she’s a nuisance – to herself, to the people she deals with while solving the crime and to her Chief of Department. As Karen herself put it: “So few things in life are a hundred percent, but the chief is a total ***hole.” But then she does something unforgivably irresponsible and becomes life-threateningly toxic. I won’t tell you what. You have to read the book.
Her new partner, recently promoted from uniform, is a remarkably together, intelligent, decent young man who belongs to the Church of Latter Day Saints and is a black belt in Shotokan karate. Karen’s observation on this last fact exemplifies Mike Markel’s dry sense of humour: “I had no idea what flavor that was, but I knew the door and the frame were beyond repair.” Mr Markel can characterize a minor character in a choice detail: “Apparently, he was the kind of hotel manager who gets a call there’s been a death in his hotel and thinks, this outfit could really use a boutonnière.” He makes observations that call for real empathy: “It was more like she was incredibly weary, as if I was making her go someplace she didn’t want to go – because she went there all the time on her own.” He asks important questions: “And after you figure out who killed him, how do you forget about all the bad stories you heard along the way?”
I appreciated the way the author brought out the nitty gritty, one-step-at-a-time nature of a normal police investigation: the dogged pursuit of detail and the cross-checking of stories. He is meticulous in his inclusion of forensic detail, and convincingly knowledgeable about how police gather information not normally available to the rest of us. However, it is typical of Karen that she has scant regard for the rules that govern investigations, and if she sees a chance of rattling someone’s cage, she does it: “I was pretty sure this was the first time I’d lied to an archbishop. I lie to everyone; it’s what I do. I just don’t talk to a lot of archbishops.” That said, she’s brutally honest about her own problems, and not being anywhere near as good at solving them as she is solving murder mysteries: “I put the drink back on the end table. This was a first for me: shaking too much to drink. Better learn how to do it. One more life-skill to put on my to-do list, I thought, How am I doing? Sh***y, thanks, and you?”
There are so many more examples I could quote from this entertaining and engrossing series, but that should be enough to give you a flavour. I can’t think of a better way of getting through a 9/10-hour flight on a Thompson ‘Dreamliner’ between Manchester and Cancun!
Here are some reviews from Amazon readers:
“Oh! I have found a new character series to read. I adore Detective Seagate. The woman has problems like you would not believe–but she gets the bad guys anyway. One of the best lines in the book, “Honey, I’m home,” and she cuddles her bottle of whiskey. So, now you know her major flaw. You’ll like her anyway. Her sidekick, Miner, is a Mormon–straight as a broom stick and funny. Best part, there are two more books in the series already published. No waiting!”
“As someone who really enjoys crime fiction, I found Big Sick Heart to be excellent. It was a fast read (probably because I couldn’t put it down) with a very interesting story line. More than that, though, I finished the book and immediately went to see if the author had written a sequel. I feel like I ‘know’ Karen Seagate (with all of her demons) and Ryan Miner well enough now to want to see them together again. This book will not disappoint you!”
“Big Sick Heart sets the stage for what should be a great ride for fans of detective stories. With a new and appealing cast of characters, this series looks to be a winner.”