You may not have heard of The Ross Agency Mystery novels by Delia C. Pitts, but that is certainly not because they are unworthy of attention. In fact, in many ways that is a symptom of the type of divide the books themselves address. Delia C. Pitts has a knack for giving voice to those who society too often chooses to ignore. The Ross Agency is a private detective firm based in Harlem that is willing to take the cases the police department cannot be bothered with – at best, these cases are simply minor nuisances not under the purview of law enforcement; but unfortunately, it too often means the cases involve populations that those in charge find insignificant or unworthy for a whole host of irrational reasons (race, income bracket, gender, sexuality, and even age.) Murder My Past finds series lead SJ Rook at the precipice of two very personal cases. Does that make these cases different from what the Ross Agency typically investigates? That remains to be seen.
When Rook’s self-made, affluent ex-wife Annie Perry reappears out of the blue, she proves to be a tantalizing distraction that he really cannot afford. This clash of worlds seems primed to lead to disaster and sure enough, it is not very long before Annie is dead and Rook is on the case. Pulling back the curtains on Annie’s history uncovers new-found strength in Rook. Here is a character who is steadfast and loyal, but with a vulnerable side buried under the façade. When clues lead to suspects in higher education, Rook discovers that success breeds complications just as easily as struggle does.
Meanwhile, Rook’s investigation opens avenues of exploration within his current relationships as well. His girlfriend, Sabrina, and her father have long desired answers in a personal mystery of their own. Brina’s mother simply vanished twenty-five years ago and that trail has long been colder than a winter wind. That is about to change.
Crime novels are often described as character-driven or plot-driven, but with the Ross Agency novels its really the best of both worlds. These characters are so fully-fleshed out, with dialogue the rings authentic at every turn, that readers will be forgiven for thinking of them as living, breathing entities. But Pitts also plots with the skill of a spider weaving a masterful web. Unspooling multiple mysteries in tandem is daunting, requiring that everything mesh in ways that never seems contrived or accidental. Delia C. Pitts makes it look effortless and isn’t that exactly what we want in our storytellers?
Arriving at the end of Murder My Past will sadden some, not because the ending is unsatisfying or disappointing (in fact, just the opposite is true,) but simply because it means we must leave these Harlem residents and return to the real world after a bit of escapism peppered with social commentary. Something tells me that more than a few readers will be back for the further adventures of this kick-ass crew.
Disclaimer: A galley of this title was provided to BOLO Books by the author. No promotion was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.