This mystery is #6 in a series featuring the retired New York police detective Dave Gurney. I haven’t read the earlier titles in the series but now that I’ve enjoyed this one so much, I’ll go back and try the others in order.
White River Burning takes place in upstate New York in the present day. It’s the one-year anniversary of the fatal shooting of a Black motorist by a white policeman. The policeman was cleared of guilt. During a demonstration in town led by the Black Defense Alliance a policeman is shot. More killings, some quite gruesome, add fuel to the literal flames and the town is featured on RAM-TV, a right-wing national news show. This ups the ante for the police; the crimes must be solved quickly before White River is the focus of any more negative national attention and more violence occurs.
After the first killing, the District Attorney calls on Gurney to help him out. It’s a messy situation, with ambitious, belligerent cops jockeying for position and pushing their own version of events. Gurney senses something’s wrong–the evidence gathered is thin in some spots and too thick in others. As an outsider, how much can he push back? The police wish he’d stop picking holes in their tidy case. But Gurney’s too much of a problem solver to leave it alone, despite the tension his involvement raises with his wife Madeleine, who wishes he’d just find a quiet hobby.
It’s easy to see why Gurney was hailed as a hero before he retired; he’s analytical and persistent. So is the author, John Verdon. The plot is so timely and realistic it will have you thinking of the current state of race relations in the U.S. Kirkus Reviews said: “It’s easy to see why this series is so popular, blending as it does the hard-boiled social observations of noir fiction with the inscrutable pleasures of classic ‘whodunit’ puzzle-solving.” That just about nails it.