NOTE: Many readers of this blog will already know much of the information about the Rocky Bluff PD series, but I include it for those who do not.
AN AXE TO GRIND is the sixth of F. M. Meredith’s Rocky Bluff PD series. The previous five, in order, are FINAL RESPECTS, BAD TIDINGS, FRINGE BENEFITS, SMELL OF DEATH, and NO SANCTUARY (which I reviewed on this site a year ago).
For those who might want the books, I should mention that FINAL RESPECTS is no longer available unless you can find a used copy. The next three are available only from the author’s website (www.fictionfoyyou.com), and the two most recent ones are available or can be ordered from anywhere you buy new books thanks to Oak Tree Press which keeps books available. All the books except for BAD TIDINGS are also available on Kindle.
When I first heard of the series, I thought it was about a private detective named Rocky Bluff, which struck me as a hackneyed-sounding name. I realized PD stands for ‘police department’ only when I started to read NO SANCTUARY. Rocky Bluff is a good name for a small fictional community on the California coast.
I enjoy Meredith’s unforced prose. Sergeant Abel Navarro is looking at a man whose head has been cut off, and he summarizes, “Including the missing head, he would be around five-foot-ten.” The arrival of Detective Frank Marshall leads to this exchange:
“Do we know the identity of the victim?”
“Nope, haven’t touched a thing, “ Abel said, and hoped he didn’t have to.
“Know where the head is?”
“No, but I didn’t look for it either.”
The people of Rocky Bluff are as real as your neighbors. Meredith is the American version of England’s Barbara Pym, a writer known for characterization and sketches of village life. Of course Pym’s books are comedies of manners and Meredith’s are murder mysteries, but good characters and good stories are what make any genre work.
The plot of AN AXE TO GRIND engages the reader comfortably. The beheaded man was a lout who had been stalking a young woman, so her protective brother, her hot-headed father and her jealous boyfriend all make interesting suspects. Meredith is also good at suspenseful finishes, and AN AXE TO GRIND does not disappoint on this score. With an old warehouse, lots of fog for which Rocky Bluff is famous, a cop following a hunch that backfires, and his fiancé wondering where he is, it’s a nail-biter.
The Rocky Bluff PD books are police procedurals given depth by attention to how the officers’ personal lives are affected by their work. Over the course of the series, there are deaths, divorces, and weddings. Friendships are made then, in the next book, frayed. Each book is a stand-alone, and they needn’t be read in order, although I know many mystery fans insist on doing that. It may be a bit better to do that, but I haven’t and I’ve enjoyed the three I have read thus far.
I believe I bought one of the last copies of FRINGE BENEFITS. I look forward to reading the remaining three if I can find a copy of FINAL RESPECTS.