Death is Potential: A Kate Swift Mystery
Featuring plenty of action, nicely twisting intrigue, and more than a hint of romance, Bob Burnett’s Death is Potential is a thriller with a difference. Through the combination of an unusual yet appealing setting—the Satori Institute, a retreat and conference center located in a sufficiently remote part of Big Sur to feel cut off from neighboring Monterey—and an unfortunately timed wildfire, Burnett ramps up the tension and sense of danger by transforming the wide open space into the unexpected backdrop to a closed-circle mystery.
US Marshall Kate Swift is notionally attending the Institute’s Transitions workshop in the hope of overcoming the roadblock that has recently interrupted her career journey, although she really aims to address her relationship difficulties and propensity to pursue romance in all the wrong places. Intending to remain incognito, she is looking forward to some breathing space from the trauma that all too frequently characterizes both her professional and personal life.
Entrepreneur Tom Swift is also participating in the Transitions workshop, in his case in an attempt to come to terms with the death of his wife, Fiona, from cancer some eighteen months previously. He’s pleased but also somewhat trepidatious when he spots Kate in the group; the two of them had almost connected romantically when working together recently but circumstances intervened. Tom is keen to get to know Kate again, although he’s not sure he’s quite ready to move on from Fiona to such an extent.
For their part, Detective Sergeant Daniel O’Malley and Detective Laura Sanchez aren’t in search of personal development. Rather, they have been dispatched from Monterey to investigate the unexplained death of Malcolm Eastwick, the philandering co-founder of the Satori Institute, whose body was found on the beach after a suspected fall. It’s immediately clear that Malcolm was not a popular guy and that a fair few of those present, both staff and clients, might have had reason to wish him dead.
When the two detectives head into the city to follow up on leads, Kate reluctantly finds herself taking charge of the investigation at the Institute. Forced to put her therapeutic aspirations on the backburner, she has to navigate the many secrets of those present in an attempt to discover the truth behind Malcolm’s death.
Death is Potential is related from the alternating perspectives of Kate and Laura in the third person and Tom in the first person, which allows Burnett to give their characters real depth and to present different viewpoints on the ongoing mystery at the Satori Institute. Most of the supporting cast are well fleshed out too, as the workshop aspect of the novel means that the attendees take turns to describe their backstories and current situations. Burnett also takes pains here to weave both subtle clues and tantalizing red herrings into their narratives.
The murder mystery aspect of the story is strong, particularly when the fire cuts the Institute off from civilization and it becomes clear that there must be a killer lurking in their midst. The isolated setting and closed circle of suspects add both suspense and drama to the story. Despite the suspect pool being restricted, there are enough potential murderers and motives about to keep things interesting and make the solution to the puzzle of Malcolm’s death and subsequent crimes difficult to guess.
While it features more romance and opportunities for characters to monologue than most novels in this genre, Death is Potential is still an action-packed thriller centered on a satisfyingly complex murder mystery. There are secrets and lies aplenty at the Satori Institute, which means there is plenty for armchair sleuths to unpick on the way to identifying the killer.
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|Mystery, Crime, Thriller