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by Jeanne M. Dams
Forge, December 2004
256 pages
ISBN: 0765308053

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

It's almost Christmas in Sherebury and Dorothy Martin has done nothing about it -- no shopping, no baking, no decorating, no nothing. This is quite out of character, but there are reasons and Dorothy is set upon getting back on track. Would that life were that easy.

Dorothy's good friend in Sherebury is her next-door neighbor, Jane Langland. Dorothy recruits Jane to go shopping with her. They stop in to see Bill Fanshawe at the museum; Bill is Jane's gentleman friend. They had an 'understanding' when he went off to war, but that understanding didn't survive the realities of war, the delay caused by a stay in a POW camp, and the changes in both Jane and Bill.

They have become very good friends again, and Jane has been urging Bill to move out of the pleasant but confining Heatherwood House retirement home just outside Sherebury and move in with her -- companionship for both of them, convenience and cost-saving, all the practical reasons for two elderly people to share living space. But Bill is recalcitrant.

When the two women get to the museum, it is open but Bill is nowhere to be found. This is unlike Bill, but not outside the realm of possibility for an elderly man with a short but emphatic history of falling. Jane and Dorothy are far more concerned than anyone else, and (of course, as it turns out) rightfully so.

In the course of trying to find Bill, Dorothy and Jane have enlisted the help of Bill's assistant Walter Tubbs. Walter is of some help, mostly in matters of ruling things out as opposed to active, productive functions. Dorothy, at one point, remembers about the tunnels; she and her husband (former police director Alan Nesbitt) traipse off to the museum to check with Walter about maps. They find Walter with the back of his head smashed in, almost dead. Alan handles the procedural consequences of this discovery; Dorothy, after dealing with her part in that process, goes off to look for the tunnels. There she finds Bill's body, dead for several days. He is clutching a map of Indiana, with some town names underlined. Some very small towns.

Was Bill killed because of this map? Was Walter almost killed because of what he may or may not know about the map? For all kinds of reasons, foremost among them being her belief that all of this is connected to an exhibit Bill was planning for the museum, Dorothy wants to know why the map was important and what Bill's connection to it was. She becomes even more determined when an elderly man is murdered at Heatherwood House, a man who had been Bill's commanding officer in the War.

The connections all meet at Luftwich Air Force Base, during World War II. Dorothy and Jane talk to a number of people who knew Bill, or knew each other at Luftwich decades ago. Like Dorothy, I knew fairly quickly who the bad guy was, but not the hows and whys. I never did make the final connection, but it made sense when Dorothy did.

Dams has written a book very reminiscent of what I remember of Agatha Christie's Elephants Can Remember. What happened a long time ago has reached out across the years to today, and it is the memories of those who were there which provide the clues used to solve the present-day problems. She has also written a book about the realities facing those of us who have passed that half-a-century mark: aging and fragile bodies, the possibility of Alzheimer's, the invisibility given to older people by the young, the emptiness of retirement homes, the fear of outliving one's money and one's peers, the loneliness of longevity.

Dorothy Martin in WINTER OF DISCONTENT does not have nearly the bonhomie or joie de vivre she did in THE BODY IN THE TRANSEPT; she is a more real person for it, but not quite as much fun to spend time with. This is not the book to read first, but it is as good a mystery as anything else Jeanne Dams has written. I've liked the series since the beginning, and this changes my mind not a whit. Fans of British amateur sleuths, strong female characters, women of a certain age slogging on . . . WINTER OF DISCONTENT is a book you'll enjoy.

Reviewed by P. J. Coldren, November 2004

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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