PI Nils Shapiro has seen some dirty crime scenes, but none like this. In an otherwise immaculate house in Minneapolis’s snobbiest suburb, there are heaps of vacuum bag dust—and under one of those heaps is the corpse of Maggie Somerville, freshly divorced and Edina’s first murder victim in decades. The killer obviously knew what he/she was doing—the presence of so much dust makes forensic analysis impossible and an overnight snowstorm obliterated any exterior trails. This seemly impossible case is the set up for Matt Goldman’s debut Gone to Dust. But while the killer is well-versed in cover-ups, Nils is equally aware of how a killer thinks—especially one in his hometown. When examination of Maggie’s personal life pulls up a long-lost acquaintance, Nils knows he’s on to someone who could, conceivably, have the ability to kill. But too many complications, including nosy FBI agents and a police chief eyeing a plum political job, make pinning the murder on any one person a difficult proposition. Even Nils isn’t quite sure of the killer until another tragedy strikes—but is this second tragedy really about Maggie or something else?
Goldman has made his career in writing for comedy series in LA, but it’s clear his heart is still in Minneapolis. Gone to Dust is as much an homage to the city and the slightly crazed citizens its brutal weather produces as it is a crime novel. Nils is a peculiar mix of jaded and Minnesota nice—Minnesota resigned?—and his dry wit makes for entertaining dialogue. Particular Minnesota trials, such as leaf raking and the preservation of car batteries, play into the plot along with more recent developments like the growth of a thriving Somali community. Goldman has Nils rely on a lot of cell phone technology along with his innate PI observation, a fact that might make Gone to Dust outdated pretty quickly. He also relies on the ‘haunted by a woman from the past’ trope that seemingly every PI novel has to have. The mystery itself takes some twists and turns that leads to a satisfying ending. It’s not explicit that Nils will be back for future adventures, but there is the sense that we could see more of him in the future. Gone to Dust is recommended for those readers who enjoy a strong sense of place, particularly Midwestern, in their mysteries.