In David Housewright’s fourteenth installment of the McKenzie series, What the Dead Leave Behind, former cop turned millionaire Rushmore McKenzie finds himself returning to the world of private investigation after his girlfriend’s college-age daughter, Erica, asks him to do a favor for her friend Malcolm, whose father was murdered a year prior to the novel’s setting. Despite the fact that the case has gone cold, McKenzie agrees to find the truth about what happened to Malcolm’s father. But things begin to get messy when McKenzie realizes that one murder may be linked to another, more high profile one, and that the victims may have been involved in some sinister activities. When McKenzie turns his investigation on members of the Hotdish, a group of parents who formed around Malcolm’s childhood baseball team and forged strong friendships with one another, he finds himself fearing for his life and, perhaps more importantly, his understanding of justice.
Set primarily in the Twin Cities and populated with a cast of very Minnesotan characters, What the Dead Leave Behind firmly establishes itself as Midwestern noir that is at once humorous and suspenseful. While there are a few questionable subplots and the occasional long stretch of uninterrupted dialogue, the novel is still an enjoyable and relatively quick read even for those who have not previously engaged with Housewright’s other McKenzie novels. Though side characters like members of the Hotdish occasionally steal the spotlight, McKenzie himself serves as an interesting and surprisingly enlightened protagonist, whose awareness of his own privilege is a breath of fresh air in a novel that is deeply mired in the ways oppression continues to exist today. McKenzie’s character growth throughout the novel stems primarily from his encounters with the ways the justice system continues to fail people when the wealthy and powerful are involved, and how that failure can corrupt even the best people. Ultimately, he is forced to reassess his vision of right and wrong.
All in all, What the Dead Leave Behind is an engaging mystery that will at turns shock and intrigue the reader. Much like McKenzie, the reader will be left contemplating the way privilege works within America, and whether true justice lies somewhere in the shades of gray—Cassandra Knudsen