Savannah reporter McClain returns in 'A Beautiful Corpse'

"A Beautiful Corpse" (Minotaur), by Christi Daugherty

Appealing characters and an insider's look at ethical journalism in the midst of newspaper cutbacks lend a solid foundation to "A Beautiful Corpse," Christi Daugherty's second novel about Savannah reporter Harper McClain.

As she did in "The Echo Killing," Daugherty continues to delve deep into the persona of Harper who became a reporter because of her interest in crime, spurred by her mother's murder when she was 12. She now uses her reporting skills to look into her mother's still unsolved death.

Harper had much respect for how the police handled her mother's murder, and her close relationship with them gave her an insider's view of crime investigation. That one-time in with the detectives is no more, not since Harper exposed a cop's crimes. The police department has closed its blue ranks against her, giving her information only when mandated.

Harper could use their help as she looks into the murder of law student and bartender Naomi Scott, who was shot in the early morning in a popular tourist area. Naomi was a bright, hard-working student who was close to her father, Jerrod; her mother died when she was a child. The police soon target Naomi's boyfriend, Wilson Shepherd, also a law student who had turned his life around after teenage indiscretions. Jerrod refuses to believe Wilson is guilty and instead offers Harper another suspect - Peyton Anderson, the son of the powerful district attorney. Peyton has a history of stalking but also seems to have a solid alibi.

Determined to follow the story, Harper not only risks the ire and revenge of the district attorney, but also her job. The politician is well connected to the newspaper's board, which wants staff cutbacks and is targeting Harper among the first.

Daugherty, who started as a young adult novelist, keeps the thrilling "A Beautiful Corpse" churning at a quick pace, succinctly melding the newsroom culture with the murder investigation and Harper's complicated personal life. Harper will forever seek who killed her mother.

The appearance of a shadowy person who says he knows the culprit keeps this subplot working but does not overwhelm "A Beautiful Corpse." It also assures that Harper will be back, and that is good news.

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