Matson Case No. 1
“Zaragoza leads the reader through a horrific murder plot with both speed and efficiency. A good murder mystery but also a good social issues story.”
New York City’s Police Chief, Robert Matson, reflects on his first murder case when, as a newly discharged Korean War veteran, he returns home to Harlem to find a color line blocking his admission to the police academy. Matson takes interim work as a janitor, but his skills in the military police come to light when Bumpy Johnson, Harlem’s unofficial mayor, pimp, and drug czar, seeks Matson’s help tracking down the killer of his prostitutes, while city officials turn a blind eye.
Detective Harvey Smith joins his former military partner to unravel the mystery behind these heinous murders. In the process, they draw on some of the city’s historical figures in crime fighting and forensics to find incriminating evidence in a non-tech era when dogged grunt work processes the bits and pieces that convict criminals. Matson uses his knowledge of psychology to profile the killer, and the search for him leads Smith and Matson to New Jersey and back again. Finally, in a dramatic set-up, they nab the killer.
To show his appreciation, Bumpy sends Matson a gift, a beautiful blonde named Sissy, and the mixed-race couple fall in love and marry, despite the social stigma of the 1950s.
The sub-plot reveals the discrimination Matson faces on a day-to-day basis, professionally and personally. Yet with his intelligence, skills, and hard work, he proves his worth that eventually sees him move up in the ranks, thanks in part to Smith who genuinely values Matson as a friend and partner.
Reviewed by Emily-Jane Hills Orford for Readers’ Favorite
“There is usually something in a person’s life that defines their future. Something they can’t let go of. It can be a good thing, or a bad thing, or something that haunts the person. It’s all part of the memories that create and define who we are. There is a first for just about everything and that first is usually unforgettable in so many ways. For New York City’s Chief Matson, it was a case in the 1950s, at the beginning of his career, that defined his future. Women were being murdered. Prostitutes. And their deaths were being laid out like religious tableaux portraying biblical scenes from the New Testament, a Passion of Christ being portrayed in reverse.
“At first, it appeared to be merely gruesome murders, as had been the Ripper murders in London a century earlier. But Matson knew better. And now the murderer he had apprehended all those years earlier was having his case up for review yet again. With degrees in psychology and years of studying the evil that pushes someone to commit such heinous crimes, Matson knew that this man, this serial killer, should never be set free. For as long as he lived, Matson would ensure that this murderer was kept off his streets.
“Pablo Omar Zaragoza’s mystery novel, Matson’s Case No. 1, leads the reader through an horrific murder plot with both speed and efficiency. The plot develops steadily with leads and tangents pulling the reader into the case as it intensifies and unravels. The sub-plot provides another case, one which many non-white people have had to endure and circumnavigate well into the twenty-first century. Matson, the main character, has special skills and an intelligence that helps him unravel the mystery behind these murders. But his skills and talent and intelligence are frequently being downplayed and sneered at by those who only see him as a black man. He is often called offensive words. He rises above these callous insults and proves his worth through hard work and education, and benefiting from a mentor who has his best interests at heart. A good murder mystery, but also a good social issues story.”
2019 Readers’ Favorite International Book Awards