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by V. L. McDermid
HarperCollins, November 2004
352 pages
ISBN: 000719174X

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Lindsay Gordon, "cynical socialist lesbian feminist journalist", is on her way to the Derbyshire House Girls' School to cover their gala fund-raiser. She's not particularly happy about the assignment, but between the financial pressure she's under and the moral obligation owed to her friend Paddy Callaghan, teacher of English and Drama at the school -- well, she's going to make the best of a bad situation. On the plus side, she gets to meet Cordelia Brown, the chat-show queen and author, as well as spend some time with an old friend.

Of course, it doesn't stay that simple. The guest of honor is Lorna Smith-Couper, the school's most celebrated old girl, a famous cellist. Lorna is killed, strangled with one of her cello strings. And the list of suspects is long and varied. Lorna knows too many secrets, and could ruin too many lives, beginning with Paddy, who used to deal drugs to Lorna's old boyfriend in her misspent youth; British public schools rather frown on that sort of thing. Pamela Overton, the headmistress, has history with Lorna, as does Margaret MacDonald, head of music. Those are all 'blast from the past' motives.

There are plenty from today, as well. Caroline Barrington is a student at Derbyshire. Her father had an affair with Lorna, divorced his wife in hopes that Lorna would marry him. She wouldn't. Some bad blood there, then, on several levels. Sarah Cartwright, another student, is the daughter of the man trying to buy Derbyshire; why did her father try to bribe Lorna not to play for the fund-raiser?

Cordelia Brown is being sued for libel by Ms Smith-Couper. For Lindsay, this is almost as difficult to handle as Paddy being a suspect. There is a definite and very strong attraction between Lindsay and Cordelia, which makes Lindsay question her motives for investigating, her impartiality as a reporter, and her timing.

I enjoyed REPORT FOR MURDER. McDermid can sketch in a character with just a few words here and a few words there, and I never have any trouble remembering who's who, and why they are in the story. Her handling of the growing attraction between Lindsay and Cordelia could serve as a template for novice romance writers, gay or straight.

One of the skills McDermid brings to mystery writing is her ability to 'play fair' with the reader; the clues were all there, had I been paying enough attention. I found REPORT FOR MURDER to be a more optimistic novel than COMMON MURDER, perhaps because it deals with the beginning of a romance, which is almost always a pleasant time, no matter what else is happening around the lovers.

McDermid is a good writer, and I recommend her books to readers who like a strong female detective, good plots, and lots of twists.

Reviewed by P. J. Coldren, August 2005

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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