Billed as a stand-alone novel, Take Out marks the final, although not chronological episode of Margaret Maron's mystery series featuring Detective Sigrid Harald. The 1990's time line takes us between Maron's previous books, Fugitive Colors and Three-Day Town.
Here, two homeless men are discovered dead in the park. Both are bleeding, but no obvious signs of foul play are found. One is identified as Matty Mutone, the godson of a Mafia mob boss's widow. The older man is unknown. They have been poisoned by a gift of lasagna: Death by take out.
Who did it, and why? Since the men simply shared a park bench, who was the intended victim?
Detective Sigrid Harald and others of the NYPD scour the very colourful neighbourhood for witnesses and information, discovering clues to a previous murder, an eccentric former opera singer, her protective hired help, and a hugable group of women. There are multiple theories to track.
Secondary, and even tertiary mysteries emerge. More is definitely not better. There is a lot of skipping around. Take Out has many tangents, and although the murder investigation involves little more than interview procedure, it seems like too much is going on in this book.
Still reeling from the death of her romantic partner, Harald is concurrently dealing with being sole heir to his art and his estate.
Two big art related twists appear out of the blue. One has a purpose. The other goes nowhere. That leaves the reader wondering what is the point. (Unless clarification occurs in a previous book with a later time line.)
Some characters are interesting and bigger than life, and are connected to each other in unique and unusual ways. While the big personalities are entertaining, the sheer number of players in Take Out is daunting. It takes a while for the unfamiliar reader to discern who is important and who isn't. At least initially, tracking the lot and remembering them is a challenge.
I do not agree with Take Out being a stand-alone mystery. Having read the previous books would not only be an asset in clarifying and understanding the characters and their complex relationships, but it might perhaps increase the enjoyment of this novel.
Other Margaret Maron Reviews
Death's Half Acre: Needs to be weeded out.