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by Valerie Wilson Wesley
Kensington, February 2022
208 pages
ISBN: 1496727819

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Valerie Wilson Wesley's A FATAL GLOW is a page-turner cozy, replete with comfort-food cooking, lightly summarized recipes, and a winsome cat named Juniper. At the same time, like series debut A GLIMMER OF DEATH, the second installment, A FATAL GLOW, incorporates just enough social realism and genuine danger to make it more vivid and urgent than most cozies. You won't be able to put it down—or stop thinking about it once it's finished.

At the start of A FATAL GLOW, Odessa "Dessa" Jones, realtor and caterer, is still navigating her bereavement of her husband, Darryl, gone too soon shortly before the action of A GLIMMER OF DEATH begins. A middle-aged African American woman living in New Jersey with a mystical sense of impending death that she calls experiencing "glimmers," Dessa is an insightful commentator on the secrets that American society keeps. Familiar characters from A GLIMMER OF DEATH return: primarily, the employees of the "cut-rate" Risko Realty, where Dessa works, and their extended families—which Wesley extends a bit further to create a new mystery. Tanya Risko, widow of the dastardly company founder Charlie Risko has a new "business acquaintance": wealthy, aggressive Casey Osborne, whose long-suffering ex-wife Aurelia is Dessa's friend. Disturbingly, he has "a glimmer." So of course he ends up dead—at a party catered by Dessa, after physically attacking her in rage against the world.

Dessa must find Osborne's murderer to exonerate herself—if not from suspicion of murder, then from suspicion of allowing botulism to creep into her catering. Her investigation leads her to draw upon the wisdom of her Aunt Phoenix and familiarizes her with some shady characters. Osborne's young sidekick Tyler Chase seems involved with Osborne's glamorous wife, Mona. Osborne and Aurelia's son Lacey has reasons to be aggrieved. And fellow realtor Louella Jefferson's boyfriend Red Bailey had threatened Osborne, with whom he had history. An ex-convict caught with marijuana and imprisoned for having a mere ounce of marijuana, Red is valiantly trying to rebuild his life, weighed down by more than his ankle restraint, poverty, and stigma. He and some of the other characters are more real, complex, and compelling than cozy characters are expected to be; his problems harder to solve. So are those of the multiple characters besides Dessa who are grieving, some of whom have—to quote Maya Angelou, which Dessa does—become "hosts" for "bitterness" that threatens to consume them.

Dessa's usual allies are back, too, including younger but wise Harley Wilde and a potential love interest, divorced barbecue shop owner Lennox Royal, "made of the same fine stuff as … Darryl, steadfast and true." Wesley deftly guides Dessa from near-romance to weighty explorations of intergenerational trauma and Grovesville's intriguing history.

"Life has too many crooks and turns and alleys for anybody besides God to keep track of why people do the stuff they do," a character tells Dessa. She can find out who killed Osborne and why, but the genius of A FATAL GLOW lies in the twists and turns that make all the characters believably messy. I look forward to Wesley's recounting of Dessa's next ominous glimmer.

§ Rebecca Nesvet is an Associate Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay and co-edits Reviewing the Evidence.

Reviewed by Rebecca Nesvet, March 2022

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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