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by Elizabeth Adler
Minotaur Books, July 2014
336 pages
ISBN: 1250019923

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

LAST TO KNOW is an entertaining, if fairly light-weight mystery. It takes place in a well-to-do lake community in Massachusetts, with only a few low-rent cabins in sight. One of those cabins belongs to Detective Harry Jordan, and he just happens to be at the cabin getting away from the stress of his job and the recent departure of his girlfriend, Mel, when a major explosion levels a large house on the opposite side of the lake, sending a young woman running into the lake with her hair on fire. The young woman, Bea Havnel, is the daughter of the now-dead woman who owned the destroyed house, and Harry plays a role in rescuing her. The events leading up to the explosion, as well as the explosion itself, are witnessed by Diz Osborne, a young boy who practically lives in a tree while he observes the comings and goings around the lake.

Next door to Harry, the Osborne's traditional family includes a mom who loves her children and loves to entertain (Rose), her horror novel writing husband (Wally), and four children, including Diz. Harry prevails upon Rose to take Bea in, since she is now "homeless," and Rose, being the motherly sort of mother she is, can't say no. As Bea attempts to join the Osborne family, Mel is busy investigating Bea and her mother from the distance of Paris, while Harry and his partner do the same from closer locales. Diz struggles with how much he should reveal about what he knows, a local woodsman gets involved, and another murder and a kidnapping take place.

The sense of menace that I assume Adler was aiming for just isn't there. The plot begs for a dark writing style, but Adler's is more on the surface, glossy. Wally's occupation as a horror book writer is used to convey gravitas, but because Adler's own writing carries none of that weight itself, the occupation comes across as a throwaway. Some aspects of the story are hard to swallow. For instance, Harry's desire to protect and coddle Bea, installing her in the Osborne's home, makes little sense given that Bea is clearly an adult (and a wealthy one after the explosion, as well). We know how thin or plump each character is, as Adler seems to find that the most important characteristic to share. The sense of skimming of the surface of the story continues even when the events being described are quite gruesome.

I don't generally read mysteries with the goal of trying to figure things out before the characters do. However, in LAST TO KNOW, I actually felt as though I was the first to know. Harry was preoccupied with his relationship with Mel, Rose was worried that Wally was straying, and there were reasons why each character might not have been fully cognizant of what was going on behind the scenes. But it was still quite difficult to believe that it took the detectives so long to figure this one out. This book kept my interest while I was reading it, but I suspect I won't remember much about it in a few days. It was a good summer vacation read.

Sharon Mensing is the Head of School of Emerald Mountain School, an independent school in the mountains of Colorado, where she lives, reads, and enjoys the outdoors.

Reviewed by Sharon Mensing, July 2014

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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