Skip to main content

A Welcome Murder


A Welcome Murder

I’ve been waiting for the publication of A WELCOME MURDER for a year. A BRILLIANT DEATH, a coming-of-age tale set in eastern Ohio, was one of my favorite books of 2016 (and was an Edgar Award nominee). While Robin Yocum’s latest work is set in close geographical proximity to that most worthy novel, the characters and tone are quite different. However, his considerable writing chops --- honed from his experience as a newspaper crime reporter --- are sharper than ever. A WELCOME MURDER is a one-sit, all-night read that is wonderfully complex, yet amazingly easy --- and compelling --- to follow.

The narrative alternates among five different five points of view. Francis Roberson is the high sheriff in his birthplace of Jefferson County, Ohio. Fran, as he is known, is an ex-FBI agent who left the agency for the sheriff’s office in the hope of using his efforts to clean up the corrupt department as a springboard to a Congressional seat and beyond. His optimistic ambition is perhaps exceeded only by his wife, Allison, who was working as a secretary at the FBI Training Academy in Quantico, Virginia, while he was there. Little did Allison know when she dated and ultimately married Fran that she would be living in Steubenville, Ohio, the seat of Jefferson County, and working as a sheriff’s dispatcher in her husband’s department. She wants out of the job and out of Steubenville, and believes the fastest way to do that is to encourage and facilitate Fran’s political career.

"A WELCOME MURDER is a terrific, wondrous read, equally balanced between characters and plot to create a seamless combination of mystery and rust belt noir."

While Allison’s husband may be the hometown boy who did well, the supposed heir apparent to that title was Johnny Earl. Johnny was the high school athlete who played several sports and ultimately accepted a pro baseball contract right out of high school. He never looked back until a combination of factors, including a career-ending injury, brought him back to Steubenville and a dead-end life. For Johnny, it was a short step back and a long fall down, from drug addiction to operating his own illegal dealership, if you will. His lucrative, if criminal, business enterprise was brought to an end when he got caught in a Federal drug bust and was sent to prison. After finishing his sentence, he returns to Steubenville, but is totally disgraced and looking over his shoulder as he waits for the shadow of one of his prison cellmates to fall over him.

Meanwhile, Dena Marie Conchek Androski Xenakis, Johnny’s high school girlfriend, is still around and professes to be in love with him. However, after multiple marriages, Dena continues to keep the gossip mill in town operating at full capacity by cheating on her current husband, Matthew Vincent “Smoochie” Xenakis, who may have married the woman he loved in high school from afar but remains the subject of multiple jokes and seemingly lives to be pushed around.  

Yocum plays one narrating character against another throughout A WELCOME MURDER, showing us what one person thinks and another knows about multiple scenarios while demonstrating a mile’s worth of difference between the two. The interplay among the characters would provide plenty of fodder for storytelling in any genre, but Yocum ups the ante just a bit by throwing a murder into the mix about a third of the way into the novel. The victim is a local miscreant named Rayce Daubner, a true waste of skin for whom few tears are shed when he involuntarily assumes room temperature as the result of multiple gunshot wounds. Sheriff Fran’s investigation centers primarily on Johnny, whose fall from grace was given a helpful shove by Rayce, whose role as an FBI informant snared Johnny in the drug-trafficking investigation.

Johnny isn’t the only one with motive, given that Dena was not immune to Rayce’s questionable charm, to the chagrin of her husband. Rayce also publicly humiliated Smoochie, smacking him around a bit when Smoochie confronted him about Dena’s infidelities. Smoochie, though, seems too meek to commit murder. Or is he? As the book proceeds, we learn that Johnny and Smoochie aren’t the only ones who had motive to give Rayce a violent sendoff. You will be guessing who did what, and to whom, and why, all the way to the end and loving every minute of it.

A WELCOME MURDER is a terrific, wondrous read, equally balanced between characters and plot to create a seamless combination of mystery and rust belt noir. Robin Yocum should be a household name among mystery fans, and this may be the book to do it. At the very least, reading it will send you hunting for Yocum’s backlist to make your own.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on April 21, 2017

A Welcome Murder
by Robin Yocum

  • Publication Date: April 4, 2017
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Paperback: 263 pages
  • Publisher: Seventh Street Books
  • ISBN-10: 1633882632
  • ISBN-13: 9781633882638