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by Jen J. Danna with Ann Vanderlaan
Gale Cenage, February 2015
295 pages
ISBN: 1432830279

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Ahhhhh. That is a sigh of relief and of pleasure. Jen Danna and Ann Vanderlaan have teamed up again to bring us the latest in the Abbott and Lowell Forensic Mystery series (4th?) and it is the best so far.

Tightly constructed, the title and each of the chapter names and references have to do with bootlegging and the bootlegged products during the years of Prohibition while at the same time pointing nicely at each chapter's development of the mystery and its resolution. I don't know of any other authors doing this. Danna and Vanderlaan do it exquisitely well.

Trooper Leigh Abbott tackles an eighty-year-old cold case in Lynn, Massachusetts on a day in which she has an unusually empty calendar. It involves stories told by a very old man in a nursing home about a long ago murder. The man's mind is failing along with his body but he has repeated this story so many times that Abbott decides it's worth a look. Once at the purported scene, she opens the door and stumbles across a fresh body on the floor. This is definitely not what she expected at all. She calls it in and looks over the building while the medical examiner does his job on site. There's no blood spatter for this new body, but she finds a cleverly disguised hidden door and, with the ME's help, rams it open to reveal a narrow staircase heading down into the dark. What's down there is an old high-end speakeasy from the days of Prohibition and the ME discovers a storage room behind the bar with a brick wall that does not match the brickwork of the original building. Enter Matt Lowell, the bone man and love interest, and the wall is opened up carefully to bring to light the eighty-year-old body the old man in the nursing home was trying to tell everyone about.

From this point on, Abbott's world is crammed with clues and red herrings, connections that she and Lowell are crazy to make, and two families of very long standing in Lynn whose feud would do the Hatfields and the McCoys proud. Forensics, as usual, are Abbott and Lowell's key tools for solving this mystery (though not the ongoing mystery of who could be mailing packets of police information and notes threatening to expose her deceased father as a rogue cop and not the hero everyone thinks he was that mystery is a continuing thread that pulls the novels in the series together).

In the first chapter, Leigh Abbott has a responding thought to something the ME says to her but does not speak it aloud nicely shown to the reader by the authors' putting the thought in italics. Later, Abbott seems to observe a number of scenarios that turn out exist only in her imagination I think I would have liked those in italics as well because on my greedy first read I didn't decipher what was actually happening. But, while my first read is for sheer pleasure, I indulge myself with a second leisurely read in which to savor what is being created for me and how it is done, so I caught on easily then.

And savor it I did. The team of Danna and Vanderlaan is gaining rapidly in skill and polish. I loved this novel and am happily waiting for more in the series. Lots more. Delicious!

Diana Borse is retired from teaching English at Texas A&M University-Kingsville and savoring the chance to read as much as she always wanted to.

Reviewed by Diana Borse, January 2015

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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