In this debut novel, a Colorado medical researcher must deal with a lab mystery, thorny secrets, and a boatload of personal conflicts.
Beth Armstrong, the story’s main character, has a lot on her plate and a lot slipping off it. Beth is a gifted researcher (currently working on a cure for multiple sclerosis) who discovers that some of her valuable mice have inexplicably died. Then there is the matter of files that disappear then reappear. Clearly someone is sabotaging her project and murdering the mice (although it is hard to convince her colleagues of this). At home, she copes with her aunt, the redoubtable Kathleen McPherson, who came to tend Beth’s mother in her final illness and now is in the busy researcher’s care. And there is Beth’s husband, Harold, a charming doofus who can’t stand his job as a CFO, preferring to start messy home renovation projects. Kathleen, a glamorous entertainer in her day (with a colorful history that includes speak-easies and mobsters in Chicago and Detroit), and Harold hit it off. Their Cuba Libre–fueled antics annoy Beth, who interrogates Harold about this alarming development (“So Kathleen’s bewitched you, has she?”). Soon Kathleen and Harold both become amateur sleuths. Early on, Beth’s beloved childhood home burns to the ground, and it sure looks like the fault of Kathleen, the doddering chain smoker, which further strains things. (To Beth’s amazement, her aunt firmly denies responsibility.) Eventually, the search for the lab saboteur and thief produces some extremely tense moments. The author can be forgiven a few loose ends—but most things are wrapped up nicely. And there is one real stunner at the conclusion. Dietz is a talented writer, delivering nuggets like “Beth dug a pleasant look out from somewhere,” and “She tossed her imagination in the wastebasket along with the card.” Readers will initially settle in for a standard mystery (who killed the mice?). But when the appealing Kathleen and Harold take over things, this story becomes much more complicated than a simple whodunit—it delightfully turns into serious literature. Readers should hope for more captivating novels from this promising author.
An impressive family tale with a strong cast.