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by Laura Belgrave
Silver Dagger Press, July 2001
200 pages
ISBN: 1570721734

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

We've all heard of people like Wanda Farr. They are this world's ultimate economic failures, and they exist in every town and city in America. They're the people we see picking through the garbage bins in shopping malls, the ones living on the outer margins of society, reclusive by nature and wary as cats of strangers intruding on their territory. Called eccentric by some, they're often just one shade shy of crazy, their survival depending on a precarious mix of instincts and sheer luck.

For Wanda Farr, the Cat Lady of Indian Run, Florida, the luck runs out on a hot summer day in June. Found dead in the bathtub, Wanda appears to be the victim of an accidental drowning. An acceptable verdict except for the fact that everyone in town knows the old woman wasn't into cleanliness. Farr's views on personal hygiene mirrored her skills as a housekeeper; both she and her decrepit trailer seemed eternally bathed in a cologne of cat urine, sour wine, and sweat.

Looking beyond the obvious is what makes Claudia Hershey a good detective. Still the "new guy" at the Indian Run Police Department, it takes a little doing for Claudia to convince Chief Suggs that all is not right with the Farr case. Suggs, a man who likes his cases neat and non-newsworthy, isn't happy with Hershey's conclusions. But having foisted his teen-aged nephew on her for a two-week first-hand look at police work, the Chief's in debt to the only trained detective on the force. Claudia gets permission to dig deeper into Farr's death with young Booey Suggs as her ride-along partner.

The investigation is barely underway when another drowning occurs. Alzheimer's victim Henry Becker is found floating in the No-Name Pond after wandering away from his home. This time even Claudia agrees that Becker's death is nothing more than a tragic accident. Niggling doubts begin to build, though, when Claudia interviews the women in Henry's life -- his wife, Barbara Becker, and his caregiver, Babs Kensington. With Booey's help, she begins the long process of hunting down information on both the victims and those closest to them, all the time looking for some connection the two deaths.

As if she doesn't have enough on her plate, Claudia's ex-husband arrives in town to visit their teen-aged daughter, Robin. Brian appears to be a changed man, an appealing reincarnation of the husband she once loved. Claudia finds herself resurrecting emotions she'd thought were long buried, and when Brian asks to take Robin back to Washington, D.C., for a few weeks, she reluctantly agrees to the plan.

Time alone gives Claudia a chance to reexamine her own life while digging into the lives of Henry Becker and Wanda Farr. None of her conclusions come easily, but in the end, the stubborn detective proves that murder, like love, is not an affair to be taken lightly.

Laura Belgrave has written another winner in QUIETLY DEAD. Not only has she given us a tightly woven mystery with sufficient clues as to the identity of the murderer, but she has also created a multi-faceted protagonist whose struggles with work and family mirror today's reality. Claudia Hershey is every woman who has ever labored to raise a child while holding down a job.

She's forced to compartmentalize her life, shutting out thoughts of her daughter while at work, and trying to make up for the long hours away when she's at home. Part of her yearns to reunite with her ex-husband while another part fears the repercussions of loving a man who failed her once before. Woven into these feelings are emotions for another man, someone who

can provide the sense of security she lacked with Brian, but someone she doesn't totally love. Complicating all this is Claudia's determination to succeed as a police officer in a small southern town where she's the only female on an all-male force. Constantly reminded by Chief Suggs that she's not in Cleveland any more, she must often bite her tongue rather than risk

losing her job. A picture of confidence on the outside, in reality Claudia is constantly questioning her abilities as a mother, a lover, and a detective. This internal tug-of-war is subtlety conveyed to the reader by an author who truly understands what being a woman in today's society is all about. My only regret with this book was that it had to end. Write faster, Laura Belgrave! Claudia, Robin, Chief Suggs, and all the other inhabitants of Indian Run, Florida, are too good to remain in hiding for yet another year.

Reviewed by Mary V. Welk, December 2001

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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