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by Edwin Hill
Kensington, August 2018
304 pages
ISBN: 149671590X

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Perfectly aptly titled, LITTLE COMFORT by Edwin Hill does, indeed, offer very little comfort in any sense of the words. Set primarily in Boston and New Hampshire, it is dubbed a Hester Thursby mystery, but there is also very little mystery involved other than how we as people can be so soul-destroyingly dreadful to each other and what the consequences of that inhumanity may turn out to be. In other words, this is a very dark novel filled with crimes that, while there's no mystery about who commits them, are unspeakably unimaginable to most of us—one would hope. It is also both page-turningly thrilling and psychologically introspective, often at the same moment, which is quite a feat. The novel is not flawless, but it is engrossing, horrifying, and fascinating enough to keep you up reading into the wee hours.

Hester Thursby is a Harvard librarian and part-time private investigator who specializes in finding people who don't necessarily want to be found. She's also currently raising Kate, her best-friend's three-year-old, navigating a complicated relationship with her non-husband Morgan, and caring for a basset hound named Waffles as well as a litter of kittens. Hester is four-foot-nine-and-three-quarters tall, has basically raised herself, and is smart, scrappy, and resilient. She's also feeling rather overwhelmed by her current family situation, which is one reason she agrees to find Sam and Gabe, young men who disappeared twelve years ago when they were fifteen. She wants a project of her own, and Sam's sister Lila offers it. Lila has a collection of enigmatic postcards Sam has sent her over the years as a starting point for tracking him down, but Sam has no presence on the internet, and his Social Security number hasn't been used for the twelve years he's been gone. Sam's friend Gabe was a foster child and is even less traceable, and Lila doesn't know if they're even still together; she simply wants her brother found so she can sell their lakeside property, known as Little Comfort, where they spent lots of happy summers. At least that's her story.

Hester tracks Sam and Gabe down in Boston in about two days, with very little effort, leading her to wonder just how hard Lila looked for Sam. But watching Sam move in high-society circles and then return to the less-than-high-society apartment he shares with Gabe piques Hester's curiosity, and the more she watches Sam and Gabe, the more intrigued she is—and the further she gets drawn into their dark world. When Sam murders a woman and goes on the run, Hester finds that both she and Kate are in extreme danger, and the story spins out from there to an inevitable ending that Hester almost doesn't survive.

Luckily for us, though, Hester does survive. From the start, LITTLE COMFORT is set up as the debut novel in a Hester Thursby series, and Hester is definitely engaging enough to carry a series. She's memorable and a little quirky. She is surrounded by interesting people, and she struggles with real-life issues without being too self-absorbed. She does do a lot of thinking about her own life, though, and Hill does a good job of balancing all the interior dialogue with fast-paced action, letting us get to know Hester and some of the other characters fairly deeply without dragging the pace down too much. Hester is by far the most developed of the characters, but Sam, Gabe, and Lila have enough back story that their interactions are believable. Hill also adds an unsettling but believable twist at the end as a parting shot that works well considering the characters he has created. Overall, Hester Thursby seems to have much more to offer, and watching her continue to develop should be fascinating.

§ Meredith Frazier, a writer with a background in English literature, lives in Dallas, Texas

Reviewed by Meredith Frazier, August 2018

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