A female sleuth and her assistant investigate a case involving a vicious dog attack in the debut novel from de Helen, whose previous works include short stories and plays.
A wealthy matriarch is killed—a heart attack after being assailed by apparently wild pit bulls. Her daughter believes it was murder, and she enlists the help of Shirley Combs, a financial portfolio manager who works as a detective on the side. Shirley, aided by Dr. Mary Watson, compiles a list of suspects: Those who stood to inherit her mother’s fortune, those affected by her plan to save the forests, a jealous lover, her strangely absent son. Or was it simply a tragic accident? “We’ll see,” says the gumshoe. Readers may be tempted to roll their eyes at the discernible correlation between the author’s novel and a certain famous detective’s (say Shirley’s full name really fast) case involving a similar canine-inspired murder. But mystery fans need not fret: These obvious allusions are trampled by the custom-designed Converse All Stars adorning the feet of a self-possessed and exemplary investigator. Mary, who—like the other Watson—provides narration and acts as a sounding board, describes Shirley as eccentric, but Shirley has a style all her own: She has a lab in her apartment, drives a Mercedes, and interviews people for both the gathering of clues and to gain prospective clients for her other job. One of the novel’s most striking traits is its portrayal of events from Mary’s perspective. If she wasn’t at the scene, she recounts events as told by Shirley. Mary’s secondhand accounts are more precise than her firsthand experiences—surmising that someone flinched and then changing her mind; literally jotting down “mmm” as a response, unsure if it was meant as yes or no. The grandest example of how Mary’s point of view affects the story is Shirley’s opening a line of questioning by asking the breed of a dog and then explaining that she was inquiring for Mary’s benefit; Mary, for her part, writes down the unfamiliar breed name phonetically and is so upset by Shirley’s sarcasm that she misses the entire conversation. The author provides the prerequisite features for classic mystery fans: a roster of suspects to keep readers guessing, assembling those suspects for the big reveal, allowing plenty of time for periodically reviewing the case, and of course, a magnifying glass.
A confident, meticulously detailed mystery that would have made Shirley’s pipe-smoking idol proud.