Retired community-college professor Tim Riese has tapped into his childhood in Billings and family history to create “A Billings Murder Mystery.”
Based in the city in 1945, the novel opens with a jolt for porter Frank Thomas as he worked the Crystal Lounge on a snowy night. He spots what looks like a body near the entrance of the Stapleton Building across the street.
The discovery of the remains of Billings jeweler Theodore Riese drags lawyer Jim Clayborn out into the bitter night and into a mystery that quickly exposes how little one knows about the lives of others.
Clayborn enters the case at first as a potential prosecutor, and his digging exposes many possible suspects, perhaps in spite of the assistance of an abrasive cop.
Behind Riese’s role as a prominent merchant lie dark secrets of domestic abuse and more.
While Clayborn started out investigating on one side of the case, he finds himself in court as the defense attorney. But, even with all his research, surprises remain.
Riese blends fact and fiction in a glimpse into an era when mystery novels were high style.
Billings residents will enjoy the incorporation of places that they know, from the Northern Hotel to St. Vincent Hospital to Rocky Mountain College.
At points, the plot is too pat and the foreshadowing too heavy. Riese is juggling lots of characters, and the reader needs to know more about some to make the final exposé have the emotional power that it merits.
Still, it’s a fun book to curl up with when spring is disrupted by the spatters of winter-like snow — especially for those who remember Billings back when or who can suspend imagination to see Billings’ downtown in a different light.