ROOT CAUSES by Elaine Kozak


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After her boyfriend is killed, a Canadian woman finds herself in danger and must unravel secrets from his past in Kozak’s debut mystery.

Clare Tamm is not a colorful woman. Tall and plain, she wears suits in neutral colors with white blouses, works in an accounting firm and looks forward mainly to financial independence. When she first starts dating Leo Barsoni, she notes, “I wondered at Leo’s lack of sexual interest in me, but wasn’t surprised.” The relationship gradually becomes more intimate, and after three years of dating, Leo asks her to move in. Leo dies in a car crash, and Clare believes her life “would revert to the dull plod it had been before.” But she learns that the crash was no accident and that Leo has left her some surprises: a lot of money and some property on South Salish Island. There, she is even more surprised to learn, he planned to start a vineyard. Clare makes friends among some islanders while being threatened by criminal figures; some of the thugs die violently near Clare, which raises police suspicion. Not trusting the authorities, she investigates Leo’s past for herself. Altogether, unassuming Clare is an unlikely heroine for a book with all the elements of a mystery—a woman in jeopardy, a mysterious legacy, buried secrets, money at stake, revenge and murder. But she does become a heroine—in a restrained, quiet way. Kozak writes well, skillfully managing characterization, plot and dialogue. Clare is a careful observer of scenes and people. Her inner spark is so quietly expressed though, she can seem drab. Her big moment, when she risks everything on a “crazy idea,” is far less dramatic than seemingly intended. Many novels would provide Clare with a substitute romantic interest. It’s an interesting choice to let her stand on her own.

A well-written mystery with a strong but restrained female lead.

Publisher: Iguana Books
Program: Kirkus Indie
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