Steve Westover examines a couple of issues seldom found in mystery novels in his debut novel, Defensive Tactics. One of his main characters must deal with sexual harassment in her job and the other faces following the rules or saving a life and throwing away his career.
Paul Stevens, a button down conservative type, works for the FBI as an accounting specialist. He likes his job and looks forward to advancement. He has a great apartment, and he has recently become friends with a classy female agent, Emily, and has hopes their friendship will progress. Life suddenly gets complicated when Jimmy, an old schoolmate from his childhood, shows up seeking a handout and a place to stay until he finds a job, which he has no intention of even seeking.
Emily is attracted to Paul and looks forward to getting to know him better. She likes her job, but has no use for a higher level agent in her department who hits on her and decides to get revenge when she makes it clear she isn’t interested. She chooses not to take her complaints of sexual harassment to the department head because he and her harasser are old friends and buddies. He has her assigned to his team and sets her up to fail and violate her personal standards in the pursuit of a crooked judge. The case becomes bigger than anticipated and Emily finds herself in danger and unable to trust her team, especially the team leader.
After Paul is drenched in muddy water by a bus, Emily accompanies him to his apartment to change where she meets Jimmy and discovers he’s an old friend from college. They pick up their former friendship and Paul isn’t sure where he stands with her any more. Paul is sent out of town on an assignment and Emily persuades Jimmy to go to church and actually look for a job. As Emily’s case gets more complicated Paul and Jimmy are the only contacts she can trust, but can the two men, who are polar opposites and both in love with Emily, trust each other?
This novel is set in Kansas City which is obviously familiar territory for the author who lives in rural Missouri. It’s a far different place from the Missouri more familiar to LDS readers through historical novels. I like Westover’s use of a setting different from the norm in LDS novels and I enjoyed several instances of originality, especially an escape scene that was both intense and humorous. I found Jimmy’s ignorance of the Church’s beliefs concerning eternal progression a little hard to accept, considering he was supposed to have served a mission before his life fell apart. He was also about to become engaged before the accident that changed his life, but there was no mention of what happened to that relationship.
The major characters could have been a little more fleshed out, though there was sufficient information for the reader to like them and become involved in the story. Many male writers have difficulty writing from a female point of view, but Westover handled this quite well, making Emily believable—though a little naive for an FBI agent.
The plot is strong and well-developed with small resolutions that lead to telescoping problems that catch the reader unaware. Questions of personal and professional ethics are introduced and left open-ended for the reader to decide for themselves the answers concerning justice or the law, and to mentally weigh in on the choices made by various characters.
Defensive Tactics is a novel both new and seasoned mystery readers will enjoy reading.
Westover was born in California and has lived in Ohio, Utah, Idaho, and Oregon as well as Missouri. He is married, has four children, and lives on a small farm with an interesting array of farm animals.
* * *
DEFENSIVE TACTICS by Steve Westover, published by Bonneville Books, softcover, 246 pages, $16.99