Review: Peggy Townsend delivers outstanding second novel

Journalist Peggy Townsend delivers outstanding second novel about investigative reporter Aloa Snow with 'The Thin Edge'

"The Thin Edge" (Thomas & Mercer), by Peggy Townsend

Journalist Peggy Townsend delivers an outstanding second novel about investigative reporter Aloa Snow that may overshadow her superb debut. Townsend's expert plotting and attention to character elevate "The Thin Edge."

The crux of Townsend's series is Aloa's journey to reclaim her career and to continue to believe in her self-worth. Two years ago, Aloa lost her job at the Los Angeles Times after she invented a source for a story on Vietnamese nail salon workers. While the story illustrated how the workers were abused, the fictional source tainted the article. Now living in San Francisco and barely getting by, her salvation has come in the form of Novo, an independent newsroom. Her last story has helped get her career somewhat on track, though she will always be under a cloud.

Aloa's latest story melds her personal and professional life. The Brain Farm, "a trio of aging anarchists" who have in a way adopted Aloa, needs her help. Tick, "a grey-haired former monkeywrencher," wants her to prove that his estranged son Burns Hamlin didn't kill Corrine Davenport, the wife of former FBI agent Christian Davenport who is now a paraplegic following an automobile accident. Burns had been having an affair with Corrine and was in the area when Corrine was stabbed, but the arrogant junior college professor insists he's innocent.

Sharpening her reporting skills, Aloa's investigation leads to a homeless camp from which four people have been murdered and to the cultish Church of the Sacrificial Lamb.

"The Thin Edge" moves at a quick pace with a minimum of violence as Townsend focuses on character development. The appealing Aloa calculates daily on how to manage her eating disorder that almost ended her life years ago. She has formed her own family — the intriguing Brain Farm, who affectionately call her Ink after her profession, and Erik and his husband, Guilllermo, owners of Justus, "the least trendy nightspot in the city." We should all have friends like these. They care deeply for her and if she doesn't show up at least once a day at Justus, they will come looking for her. "The Thin Edge" finds San Francisco in the midst of a "tule fog" that has enveloped the city — "cold and thick with a feel of malevolence to it." Obscuring visibility, the fog is a perfect metaphor for evil that can hide in plain sight.

Townsend remains an author to watch.