Modi Ind0rum is an adult mystery suspense novel by Karma Lei Angelo, the first in a series. In it, a new detective, Ameena Jardine (AJ), former civil engineer turned geomorphologist, is called in to investigate a potential murder on September 2019. When she investigates the corpse, an overdosed drug user, nothing seems out of the ordinary except an item in his hand — a seashell with the number 55 engraved on the inside. From its suspenseful, opening scene to further murder scenes and flashbacks, we come to understand that AJ is in a cat-and-mouse game with a mysterious serial killer and an equally shadowy informant. Meanwhile, she struggles to maintain a decent home life with her new job as well as a partner who is strongly attracted to her.
I won’t reveal more (though the back cover describes more than I have) but the book proceeds in multiple directions from two detailed sequences in Jardine’s life before she became a detective, to politics in an office environment, to investigating multiple crime scenes. The book isn’t limited to the narrative. It also contains maps, surplus front matter, and a number of appendices of information. I love this concept. Despite the seriousness of the subject matter, it brings a fun-filled experience to the ordinary business of reading a book. It’s a puzzle plot so the author has hidden puzzles everywhere.
Please realize this novel is described as both part one of a trilogy and book one of a series. The ending will not wrap everything up with a bow. I did hope the book would’ve taken the traditional trilogy arc where the first book feels more conclusive (think V. E. Schwab’s Darker Shade of Magic) leaving the second novel as the cliffhanger. Instead, it serves the role of the first part of a three-part narrative.
I have a soft spot for puzzle-style mysteries and stories with serial killers who use patterns. From Agatha Christie’s ABC Murders to David Fincher’s Seven to Anthony Horowitz’s Magpie Murders, mysteries where the killer utilizes a pattern are the best. As the author was a civil engineer herself, she uses her math and engineering background in the story effectively. Who knew a driveway could contain a clue to a mystery? But one of the best aspects of the story is the presence of a certain numerical sequence. The serial killer keeps score of the body count in an inventive and original way. Additionally, a enigmatic octopus tattoo plays a large role in what unfolds halfway through the book, opening up the story to more than the typical serial-killer-on-the-hunt plot.
While Karma subtitles her book as a mystery suspense novel, there’s a lot more going on than the murders. There are a number of family and office scenes interwoven with the main mystery. Some come together into the main plot in a surprising yet logical way. A few others seem extraneous to the plot, but understand I haven’t read the second or third book. Nevertheless, the pacing is solid.
The author did her homework on this novel. From geomorphology to tattoos to police procedures, she convinced this reader the experts were really experts in their field. I spent a summer as an intern in a civil engineering office which means I know 1% more than the average of the population on this subject, but all the engineering terminology rang true. I mentioned before the use of engineering-specific knowledge to solve mysteries was a welcome surprise. There’s no doubt AJ is highly intelligent and dedicated so it surprised me that she and others miss the connective tissue of the murder scenes. I wanted to enter the scene and yell at the detectives at one point, proving how much the novel drew me into its world.
Among the characters, AJ is a complex character who has lived through an alarming event before we read about her on page one. We learn early on she has switched careers and she’s stressed out as the newcomer on the force. This builds multiple dimensions to her personality as well as sympathy from the reader. AJ is both unpredictable and believable throughout the story, and we root for her from the beginning. Karma’s love for her characters is on display here, and her descriptive passages are detailed and intriguing. She includes a number of playful details such as AJ has a daughter with a feather collection, and AJ calls a defect in her boss’s desk a “desk scar.” The author’s dialog is snappy and engaging. I enjoyed when AJ’s mother calls her “saffron in a parsley bundle.”
I purchased the paperback and all the technical details of the book are great. The interesting front cover, the binding, the layout of the end product are all spot-on. This is an author who went above and beyond to bring a quality product to the reader.
As mentioned, I haven’t read the second or third book, but the first is everything I love in a mystery novel and will pick up the other two in the future. Overall, Karma Lei Angelo has put together a memorable novel with Modi Ind0rum.