Poisoned Pen Press, 2011. ISBN 978-1-590-58944-1.
Reviewed by Judy Alter
Posted on 08/12/2011
When I first opened this book, I thought I was in for some sort of Janet Evanovich knockoff: Susan Callisto is a tough lady lawyer who left a big firm to do real estate law and become a political consultant. She's once widowed, now disappointed in love, and generally down on the world, including herself. Like too many mystery protagonists, she's always eating on the run—stale pizza, a peanut butter sandwich, or an apple instead of dinner. She has no life beyond her work, and as it turns out, she's not as tough as she'd like the world to think.
But after a slow start, Angela Gerst, herself trained in the law, takes this book in completely unexpected directions. The first case the reader hears about involves Nino, Susan's sort-of-grandfather, a crotchety old-country old man who owns an Italian restaurant but is about to lose his lease to Lombard, the landlord who wants the entire large building for one big tenant. Lombard makes Nino a generous offer to relocate him in new restaurant space in Cambridge,and rent an apartment—a sweet deal that Nino refuses. Susan sees it as her job to convince him.
Her candidate client, Roddie, running for alderman, has problems with a wife who hates to campaign and a neglected young daughter who is glued to her father. But entrepreneur Roddie soon takes a back seat to a new client, Chas Renfrow, owner of a geo-tech company under suspicion for polluting. Chas barges into Susan's office and practically forces a $20,000 retainer on her. He's going to run for mayor of Newton, but he only has days to collect the signatures. Susan is skeptical, but Chas is convincing. And she ends up accepting the check, even though several friends warn her away from Chas, including Nino who senses that he's evil.
Then the murder of Chas' assistant draws the detective Michael, who happens to be Susan's former lover, back into the picture. Their relationship is classic to mysteries: When Susan doesn't like the conclusions Michael is reaching, she pushes herself into the investigation—sometimes with good results, but more often with dire ones. Michael constantly warns her against interference in police matters.
From then on, its murder and mayhem and nothing is as it seems, no one is what they seem to be. People you expect to carry the book through to the conclusion are murdered early on, people you dismiss as cardboard characters suddenly become important, and lost loves are suddenly restored. Nothing is as it seems, and there are cracks in everything. Are the murders the work of one person, as they seem—or is more than one person stalking these victims? Will Susan herself be next, or Roddie Baird's young daughter, Delia? Gerst does a great job of keeping several balls in the air at once and—no spoiler here—what seems disconnected at first will all come together in the end.
Susan's adventures are shared by Deidre, the answering service woman she's never met but who becomes a friend; Odette, Roddie Baird's eccentric and dramatic campaign manager; Lauren Baird, a disconnected mother and a lady hard to fathom; Johanna Renfrow, Chas' estranged wife (he told Susan they were divorced;) and even Chas' ninety-something-year-old mother. It's a wide-ranging cast of characters, but Gerst pulls them all together in a way that makes sense—and leads to a satisfactory ending.
This is a classic story of politics, love, hate, and greed—and it marks a credible entry into the mystery field for Angela Gerst.
Angela Gerst attended law school and then worked in journal publishing for such publications as Choice Magazine and New Boston Review. She covered local news for the Newton Times and the Boston Globe. Interested in local issues, she has a passion for campaigning and political consultantancy. Gerst and her husband live in Boston. Visit her website.
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