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Publisher: Karlsbad Middleford Press (2017)
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Aged in Charcoal by Jeffrey Ridenour is a classic hardboiled detective novel set in 1960s Bay area California. This novel features dirty cops, bribes, an inept justice system, and Stu Fletcher, an ex-cop turned detective, who despite his jaded outlook wants to do the right thing.

Fletcher has been hired by Maggie Ogilvy following her husband’s apparent suicide to find his long-lost sister, Bernie. Maggie doesn’t let Fletcher know what she plans to do once Bernie is found, only that she wants to know her whereabouts. It seems to have been her husband’s last wish to see his sister because Charles Ogilvy—a wildly successful architect who had his eye on running for lieutenant governor before his death, strangely didn’t leave behind any sort of suicide note. Instead, his last writing was a note to himself reading: “Find Bern. Must apologize.”

With nothing much more to go on, Fletcher finds himself embarking on what feels like a wild goose chase and more than once realizes he has run into a wall and must backtrack. He soon gets the idea to ask a local artist to draw pictures of Bernie, each one progressively aging her so that he may be able to show people what she possibly looks like now. But the closer he seems to get to finding Bernie, the farther away he gets from what is to be expected from a case like this. Along the way, Fletcher also has to contend with the local mob and soon finds himself in mortal danger.

This is the first book in the Stu Fletcher, PI thriller series. And while Ridenour unravels his story at a leisurely pace where nothing seems to happen quickly in the world of private investigating, the plot doesn’t want for twists and turns. This mystery uses slang from the time period in which it’s set, the ‘60s, and as such, some modern readers may cringe at some of the time-authentic slang. What readers will also find is a large cast of characters who serve to flesh out the setting, and an often-stark writing style that wastes no time in getting right to the point.

Aged in Charcoal reveals the seedy underbelly of the justice system—from dirty cops to inefficient courts. And in the end, the only good ending may be the justice you make for yourself.

Aged in Charcoal won First Place in the CIBA 2017 Clue Awards for Mystery novels.