Muller's 'Burn Out' shows a few signs of fatigue

But McCone is quickly sucked into a new case that starts with a young girl being tossed out of a truck by a small-town, small-time drug dealer shortly before the girl's sister is shot and killed in the man's rundown mobile home.

The sisters and their troubled mother are Native American, forcing McCone to confront her still unsettled feelings about her own Native American heritage and adoption by a white family.

"Burn Out" is Marcia Muller's 26th McCone mystery in a little more than 30 years. During that time, McCone has gone from a one-person operation sharing low-rent space with a group of lawyers to the owner of an investigative firm with enough employees to confuse a new reader.

Like many successful entrepreneurs in their 40s, McCone finds herself at a crossroads: Does she sell the firm, take the money and run? Or is there a way she can continue to find meaning in her work?

In previous novels, Muller has excelled at making McCone's inner turmoil as gripping as the crimes she solves. But in this story, her description of McCone's depression falls a bit flat, and the speed and ease of the private eye's recovery ring hollow.

The reader is led to believe that one good case can do the trick.

Muller also relies on plot techniques she has used before: Characters have multiple identities, and the key to the present crime lies in the victims' past. The solution is apparent too early, and when the loose ends are tied up, there are few surprises.

It begs the question of whether Muller is also feeling a bit of burnout? While she undoubtedly remains one of today's best mystery writers, her latest work shows a few signs of fatigue.

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