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by Tracee de Hahn
Minotaur, February 2018
340 pages
ISBN: 1250110017

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Agnes Luthi is almost ready to go back to work as a police detective; her recovery from a leg wound is just about complete. A man she met on the case that led to her injury, Julien Vallatton, wants her to look into something for another friend of his. Christine Chavanon doesn't believe that her father, famed watchmaker Guy Chavenon, died accidentally; he had a severe peanut allergy and died of anaphylactic shock at a school function. Christine believes someone killed her father for a new technique he was working on, one that would revolutionize the watch-making world. Reluctantly Agnes agrees to look into the case, which has already been closed by the local authorities. Mr. Vallaton has a lot of influence, both on Agnes and on the local gendarmes.

Like many businesses which operate on both artistic and mechanical levels, the secrecy inherent in the world of Swiss watches is difficult to penetrate. Relationships go back generations, and alliances formed decades ago have a bearing on what's happening today. Agnes also delves into the intricacies of the all-male boarding school where the "accident" occurred. Valleton has connections there, as do several of the principals involved in Chavanon's life. Then there are the personal relationships, some of which mimic in a small way the relationships Agnes is currently dealing with. Agnes' husband has only been gone four months; the mutual attraction between her and Julien is problematic for a number of reasons.

There are many avenues to explore for each of the three basic questions: Means, Motive, Opportunity. Agnes is very thorough and ends up pursuing many leads, most of which fail to pan out. As she does this, the reader learns about the peripheral characters and their possible motivations. Agnes doesn't figure out the "means" question until almost the very end. The "opportunity" problem does rule out some people from the very beginning, and it's still difficult to be sure about everyone until, again, the very end.

Tracee de Hahn keeps the reader guessing until the penultimate chapter. Her clues are honestly planted and easy to backtrack from the solution, although not nearly as easy to sort out from the red herrings. Her characters are, for the most part, believable. She has a good sub-plot, one that serves to introduce Agnes to the main case and which resurfaces just as the Chavenon case is winding down. This gives the reader a reason to look forward to book number three. One hopes that Agnes gets assigned to her next case, not pulled in reluctantly on the basis of influence and fortune. It would make for a stronger basis for looking into a death that seems, on the face of it, so totally NOT a murder.

§ I have been reading and reviewing mystery fiction for over a quarter of a century and read broadly within just about all genres and sub-genres. I have been a preliminary judge for the Malice Domestic/St. Martin’s Press Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Contest for at least 25 years. I live in Northern lower Michigan with my spousal unit, one large cat, and 2 fairly small dogs.

Reviewed by PJ Coldren, March 2018

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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