The Comfort of Distance is the first Sebastien Grey forensic mystery by Ryburn Dobbs. Released in 2020, it's 274 pages and is available in paperback, audio, and ebook formats. It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links and references throughout. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately. For Kindle Unlimited subscribers, this book is currently included in the KU subscription library to borrow and read for free. The second book in the series, The Boxwood Torso, is also currently available on KU.
This is an interesting forensic mystery with a neurodivergent protagonist. He's meticulous and neurotic, intelligent, and has moderately severe interpersonal social anxiety. He's more or less independently wealthy, and that's a factor in the story and the emphasis makes him come across as a bit of wish-fulfillment on the part of the author (who also worked as a forensic anthropologist and consultant and who could, for all I know, actually also be independently wealthy).
The writing is very choppy and almost frenetic. The story hops from thread to thread seemingly without rhyme or reason. I found the back-and-forth distracting and at places, and it yanked me out of the overall story. The dialogue and characterizations are adequate and the scenery descriptions are very good. There's an exhausting overabundance of minutiae; street directions for example ("After snaking his way through town—5th Street, right on Mt. Rushmore, left on 2nd Street, left on Washington, left on 5th, right on Custer—", etc) and I found myself taking breaks more often than usual because I felt bogged down in the non-essential details. The eventual climax, resolution, and denouement are satisfying and well written.
The bones of a very good mystery and series are here from the beginning. The book would have benefited immensely from being subjected to a thorough and merciless editing process, but only in tightening the prose, editing a few loose ends, and mostly in the finishing and polishing process. The basic story, including the neurodivergent and interesting protagonist and his dysfunctional and complicated relationship with his brother and his brother's wife are well written, nuanced, and complex. I really liked that the author clearly shows that Sebastien's atypical neurology and personality aren't a super-power, but can make him difficult and irritating to people around him.
Three and a half stars, a promising start to the series.
Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher for review purposes.
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