Whenever I arrived at the scene of a Miami homicide with my camera crew and saw Edna Buchanan there I knew I was beat. And she was almost always there first. Edna was a tenacious newspaper reporter, brilliant writer, buddy of cops, detectives, medical examiners and other helpful news sources with first response status on big stories. It would never have occurred to me to compete with her on her own turf or even grudge her her many scoops—she was that good.
So I read her early Britt Montero mysteries with pleasure. Buchanan does what Carl Hiaasen does—takes the wacky, bizarre, horrific and utterly original true crime stories from the streets of Miami, Miami Beach, Coral Gables and the completely crazy South Florida local news and builds stories around them. All these many years later I still feel the shock of recognition reading The Ice Maiden, Buchanan’s post-911 cold case murder mystery with Britt Montero and a brace of local constables collecting clues and infuriating just about everyone. The events are real–only the story is a pastiche with a neatly resolved plot.
A brutal crime that was never solved resurfaces with a growing cast of suspects and fresh, threatening incidents. The murder of a teen and the assault of his first-time date who was left for dead has wrecked a score of lives and no one has ever paid. Britt’s buddies on the squad want to re-open the case, their superior orders it closed, Britt pokes around and digs up new leads and the madness is on.
Florida’s farm fields, persistent slums, volatile Black-Cuban antipathy, tendency to lawlessness, gated communities hiding ugly secrets, newsroom rivalries and tabloid homicides are all on display and the action never flags. Britt has a jones for an old flame who is in Manhattan on search & rescue at the World Trade Towers. The young survivor of the attempted double homicide is now an adult artist who makes ice sculptures and is estranged from her family. A burglary gone horribly wrong triggers memories of the old case and the plot spins out like a line expertly cast over the bonefish flats by a seasoned guide.
Buchanan is still a damn good writer and her white hats and bad guys follow a taut script. The Ice Maiden is well-constructed, tense, packed with treacherous byways, shades of gray and dodgy characters and delivers a classic climax with a violent finish. Unfortunately, you could see the worst of it heading straight for Montero who does not escape unscathed into a great story for the morning paper. But she does survive to keep tracking clues and criminals in Miami’s mean streets another day.
The Ice Maiden : A Novel (Britt Montero Mysteries) Edna Buchanan | HarperCollins 2002