‘To Catch a Storm’ by Mindy Mejia. Atlantic Monthly 352 pages, $28
Sleuths in mystery fiction aren’t always private detectives or police officers. Occasionally, ordinary people with unusual occupations can prove their mettle in seeking truth and justice, as Mindy Mejia proves in her intelligent and engrossing “To Catch a Storm.”
After five best-selling standalone thrillers, Mejia launches her first series with two characters who make an unlikely team in mystery fiction. Dr. Eve Roth is a successful and popular physics professor specializing in meteorological phenomena at the University of Iowa. Her career was borne out of tragedy after her father died in a tornado when she was a child. Private detective Jonah Kendrick claims he’s a psychic who has helped find those missing through his oneiros ability, in which he hears, feels and sees people in his dreams.
The teaming of a woman who relies on science and a man who depends on the speculative provides a solid plot that literally hits the ground running as “To Catch a Storm” moves in unexpected directions.
Eve is piloting her $3.2 million mobile air lab when she spots a spontaneous combustion sight during a fierce rainstorm. When she arrives home a few hours later, her husband, Matthew, is missing and her disabled father-in-law is talking with police. Matthew’s expensive Telsa has been found burned out and abandoned. Eve is the logical suspect because her mobile lab surely could create a fire during a rainstorm.
The day gets stranger when psychic Jonah arrives, claiming he knows her husband’s disappearance is linked to one of his cases. Jonah also says he has “seen” Matthew, scared, held captive in a barn. Eve chases Jonah away with a baseball bat, refusing to listen to what she believes is nonsense.
But then events take a turn and the two reluctantly team to find Matthew, also scientist who was recently suspended from the University of Iowa for inappropriate behavior with a student.
While “To Catch a Storm” offers a primer on meteorological phenomena, the science thankfully doesn’t overwhelm the suspenseful story.
Mejia digs deep to show the humanity and motivations of Eve and Jonah and how they relate to each other as well as other characters. The lead characters do not suddenly become crime-fighting superheroes, but authentically respond to the situation. Eve’s disappointment in her husband doesn’t prevent her from caring about him and wanting him to be safe. And Jonah’s actions that resulted in his best friend, a local police officer, being severely wounded weighs heavy on him.
Eve’s reliance on “data” and Jonah’s “gift” will challenge each to re-evaluate their lives. Events force Eve to reshape her definition of what she considers “impossible.” Even though each experiences the universe in different ways, “neither way was right or wrong,” she says.
Readers will want to catch Mejia’s unique approach in “To Catch a Storm.”