Review: Unholy City (A Claire Codella Mystery #3) by Carrie Smith
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Crooked Lane Books. Thank you!
Expected publication: November 7, 2017 by Crooked Lane Books
Despite their rocky history, Detective Claire Codella and Precinct Detective Brian Haggerty come together when senior churchwarden Philip Graves’s bloody body is found lying in the herb garden of historic St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on Manhattan’s Upper West Side just two days before Good Friday. Upon first glance, it looks like a random act of big city violence, but it soon becomes clear churchwarden Philip’s death was the result of a meticulously calculated ploy by someone who knew him.
There are five vestry members and a choir director in addition to the ten homeless men asleep in the church basement. Any one of them could have done it, but what did Philip Graves do to warrant such a merciless death? Struggling to share the case and salvage their personal relationship, Claire, Brian and trusted Detective Eduardo Muñoz work around the clock to uncloak the desires, secrets, and resentments that find home through the iron gates and into the hidden beauty of one historic Romanesque church in Unholy City, the haunting third installment in Carrie Smith’s Claire Codella mysteries.
Unholy City is the third entry into Carrie Smith’s Claire Codella Mystery series, behind the debut Silent City and sophomore entry Forgotten City. As with the previous two series entries, Unholy City is a sharply written, highly engaging mystery with another unique criminal investigation at its core.
The focus in Unholy City is somewhat of a departure from the homicide investigations that occurred over the course of books one and two. While the crime itself is no less shocking in terms violence, there is an altogether unusual, perplexing mystery that meets Claire and fellow Detectives Brian Haggerty and Eduardo Muñoz. Their investigation into the death of a churchwarden at an Upper West Side church explodes into an exceedingly thorny examination into the supposedly quieter lives of multiple vestry members and their increasingly convoluted recollections of their time and relationship with the deceased. Unlike the first two Claire Codella novels, it seems as though Unholy City is more primarily focused on the crime and scene at hand; slightly less time is given to Claire and her partnership (professional and now personal) with Detective Haggerty in favour of concentration and detail on the strangely hushed, almost locked-room nature of the church homicide. Smith is meticulous in how the particular details of the major crime(s) committed are studied, examined and played out; more so than the previous series entries, Unholy City‘s major investigation is a case that involves logistics, deductive reasoning, and exhaustive suspect interviews. The third-person narrative also continues to rotate between that of Claire and her team’s work, to that of parties involved on the other side of the police investigation. This alternating viewpoint structure really works in this series to sustain reader’s attention and in this entry especially, works so well in layering and adding surprising character reveals, as well as in smoothly propelling the story toward the climax and reveal.
Overall, another very strong, well-written, well-plotted and well-paced entry into what has become a favourite new mystery/crime series. Now three books into Carrie Smith’s Claire Codella Mystery series and I continue to be hooked: not only by the titular protagonist who continues to engage and evolve, but also by the changing nature and scope of the investigations at the heart of the novels. I have likely mentioned this about the series, but will say it again: I do hope to read and explore many further titles in Carrie Smith’s terrific crime series.
I received a copy of this title courtesy of Crooked Lane Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own.