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by Kimberley G. Giarratano
Datura Books, February 2023
344 pages
ISBN: 1915202426

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

DEATH OF A DANCING QUEEN by Kimberly G. Giarratano, is a murder mystery with some refreshingly unusual characteristics. First, the novel focuses on Billie Levine, a young private investigator who has a unique back story. She is Jewish, which makes her a perfect person to be investigating the Jewish mobsters in New Jersey. She has grown up with the sons of these mobsters. One of them, Aaron Goff, is an old boyfriend.

Billie's dysfunctional family figures prominently in her life. Her father, William Levine, is an ex-cop who now spends his days drinking but nominally runs the agency where Billie works. Her mother, Shari, is slowly fading away from early onset Alzheimer's. Her brother David has escaped his earlier bouts with addiction but is bipolar and works hard to keep his nursing job. David's ex-boyfriend is Aaron's brother Matty.

Billie is obsessed with the idea that she may have inherited the gene that causes the disease her mother, only 58, suffers from. This thought occupies her even as she investigates the case of a missing coed, Jasmine Flores. Jasmine worked part time as a dancer/stripper at a cabaret called the Malta Club, owned by the Goff family as a money-laundering operation. But Jasmine's real passions was her on-going podcast about unsolved murders of women.

Billie was hired by Jasmine's boyfriend Tommy Russo, and she takes the case even though Russo is a low-life druggie whom both she and the cops suspect may be involved in the disappearance. She does so because she needs the money for her family. Tommy is the son of the Russo clan, a Jersey mob family and a group that Billie really does not want to get involved with. Skinheads from a neo-Nazi gang called Torn Crosses also surface in the ongoing investigation. The latter are a scary tattooed bunch - one guy even has a tattoo on his eyelid. To make matters more complicated, it turns out that Jasmine was looking into the unsolved murder of Starla Wells, who had worked as a stripper twenty years before in the same club as Jasmine—a club then as now owned by Neil Goff, Aaron's father. We had first seen Starla and witnessed her murder in the book's opening chapter, which takes place in 1991. This murder had seemed unrelated to the rest of the novel until it suddenly becomes relevant.

Do you remember the Jersey of Tony Soprano and his cronies? This book is another take on this area and its mob connections. Following Billie as she navigates the Jersey criminal underworld makes for an entertaining read.

§ Anne Corey is a writer, poet, teacher and botanical artist in New York's Hudson Valley.

Reviewed by Anne Corey, February 2023

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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