Leisenring No. 1

Written by Jim Oglethorpe

Leisenring, Pennsylvania at the turn of the 20th century is a small coal-mining town like many others scattered across the country, but author Jim Oglethorpe complicates the usual day-to-day activities of his cast of characters by having a burned human skull turn up one day in a coke oven. In a familiar but well-done progression of plot developments, Oglethorpe moves his mystery story from grisly discovery to dogged investigation to nefarious cover-up, and his main character, former cop Joe Zajac, is a well-drawn and immediately likable figure to accompany the reader through the steadily-thickening storylines.

The book’s dialog can be a bit wooden, and the murder plot itself has a fairly sizable logistical hole that neither Zajac nor Oglethorpe appear to notice. But the Western Pennsylvania of the coal baron era is memorably evoked.