A woman’s double life throws her friends and family into a murderous tailspin.
This debut novel, the first in a planned mystery series, features hardworking Washington, D.C., heroine Jeanne Pelletier. Jeanne, a stuffy contract attorney by day, moonlights as an amateur belly dancer named Zahira at night. A free spirit at 28, she realizes that this alter ego affords her both the freedom to demonstrate her talent for dancing and a true release from the stress and strain of day-job doldrums. During a particularly challenging veil-dancing performance curated by Jeanne’s close, trusted mentor, Yasmina, a fire breaks out at nightclub Algiers and Yasmina is lost in the smoke and flames. Jeanne manages to extract Middle Eastern bar co-owner Ibrahim Abu Ali from the rubble, though he’s been fatally shot in the chest during the melee, a development that embroils her and city police detectives in a homicide investigation. Once the crime is established, the real sleuthing begins, and Jeanne’s slick, smart detective spadework fuels much of this whodunit. As Jeanne, aided by her best friend, Lily, digs deeper into arson allegations and Yasmina’s serpentine history, the attorney also uncovers financial woes for the club, bad blood between two Islamic co-owners, and a scheming sole heir to the family fortune. Her intimate partnership with Lily soon morphs into an enlisted cotillion of crime-solvers, including “ravishing” sister Vivienne and smitten Scottish cybersleuth Fergus McCarrick, both of whom become instrumental in solving the murder. But Jeanne’s encroaching personal skeletons remain unavoidable. Klover (In the Shadow of the Volcano: One Ex-Intelligence Official’s Journey through Slums, Prisons, and Leper Colonies to the Heart of Latin America, 2012) is a former U.S. intelligence analyst and political radio commentator. Especially adept at narrative pacing, a quality that can make or break mystery novels, she establishes a fine momentum right from the rousing first chapters. The tale also incorporates themes of stage performance anxiety (one night, as Zahira, Jeanne “just stood there, immobile. Her feet felt as though they were encased in lead”), Middle Eastern terrorism and Islamic culture, and prejudicial and racial unrest. These facets lend the story a certain sophistication and complexity.
A fiery, vividly drawn mystery, headlined by a particularly daring belly dancer.