Ten Days: Dee Rommel Mystery #1
When one considers Maine’s status as the least violent state in the U.S., it seems paradoxical that so many accomplished and best-selling authors choose the Pine Tree State as the setting for their crime novels — Gerry Boyle, John Connolly, Kate Clark Flora, Bruce Robert Coffin, and Paul Doiron, to name just a few. Now into their august company arrives Jule Selbo, a veteran writer and relatively recent transplant to Portland, with her first crime novel, 10 Days: Dee Rommel Mystery #1.
Selbo began her career writing plays for off-off-Broadway and eventually migrated to Los Angeles, where she thrived as a screenwriter in film and television. After relocating to Portland a few years ago, Selbo determined to fulfill a lifelong desire to create a series of crime novels. She has said her material comes from walking the neighborhoods around her home on Munjoy Hill and hanging out in coffee shops and watering holes, where she prospects for ideas.
The result is a beguiling, captivating protagonist, Dee Rommel, a somewhat jaded former policewoman who is recovering from a horrendous injury suffered on the job. After nearly a year of physical therapy and rehab, Dee is being pressured to consider reinstatement to the police force. Meanwhile, working for her godfather, a private investigator, Dee finds herself thrust, none too willingly, into the midst of dual investigations. One involves the disappearance of a brilliant heiress who’s been instrumental in the development of some cutting-edge AI technology. The other: searching for the sadist who brutally assaulted Dee’s good friend.
That sadist, Billy, is perhaps the novel’s weakest link. He’s drawn as such an unrepentant misogynist that he risks becoming a less-than-credible caricature. But Selbo has clearly done her research. She describes the arcane, yet absolutely essential details of detective work with sure-handed confidence. Dee’s efforts to gather evidence are helped immeasurably by her connections at police headquarters, but just as often she doggedly conducts her own investigations, asking questions and following leads.
Dee is tough, fearless and beautiful. As she delves deeper into the twin crimes, she is ardently pursued by two men: her former partner on the police force and a motorcycle-riding “bodyguard” with a fondness for Dickens. The tension between the two suitors as they vie to impress Dee is deliciously drawn. Selbo has opined that “character is everything,” and the roster of colorful personages that float through the pages of 10 Days reflects the inspiration she gleaned from those coffee-shop conversations.
But perhaps the most vibrant “character” in Selbo’s novel, besides its heroine, is Portland itself. The narrative offers local readers vicarious pleasures of recognition as we travel around the city with Dee: stopping into Micucci’s extraordinary grocery store, trying in vain to find a parking spot on the West End, cruising Commercial Street (where Dee’s godfather’s office is located), dropping into J’s Oyster Bar for lunch. As one reviewer quipped, “Warning: this book will produce a powerful craving for a fried haddock sandwich.”
The novel’s denouement is riveting. Naturally, Dee faces and escapes mortal danger, but questions linger, such as whether she’ll rejoin the force or remain an independent sleuth. Stay tuned as this promising series continues.