First Murder in Advent

Soldier on the Porch
by Sharon Wildwind

Five Star, 2006. ISBN 978-1594145278.
Five Star, 2007. ISBN 978-1594145940.
Reviewed by Judith Helburn
Posted on 11/05/2007

Fiction: Mystery

Sharon Wildwind's first mystery (Some Welcome Home) captured my imagination and made me want to know more about the protagonists, Elizabeth Pepperhawk and Avivah Rosen. The series is unique in that it features women who have served in Viet Nam, as Wildwind herself did. Her books portrays both the disturbing aspects of war and the camaraderie that can develop between those who serve.

In Wildwind's second mystery, First Murder in Advent (set in 1972), Army nurse Pepperhawk is between assignments when she receives a call from Benny Kirkpatrick, ex-Special Forces first sergeant. Their friend Avivah is in trouble, and with Benny and Avivah's friend, has sought refuge in a convent in the mountains of North Carolina. When Pepper goes to help, she finds military intelligence officer Darby Baxter, her on-again, off-again love interest, with three other men.

What follows are days without electricity in a mostly empty convent, in a snowstorm. Avivah, Pepper, Darby and Benny, along with a few nuns and some members of a paramilitary think tank, struggle to survive the cold amidst murder, secret passageways and lost wills—delicious reading with tangling sub-plots. Pepper confronts her childhood experience of Catholicism, while Avivah must contend with the nuns' suspicions of her Judaism. Our heroes all survive. although some of the other characters do not.

In the third book, Soldier on the Porch (set in 1973), Pepper is now a civilian nurse and Avivah works with a security team for a Veterans Administration hospital in North Carolina. They live on a rural, mountain homestead with two houses. They are living in one while Benny, his friend Loraine, and her two sons live in the other.

The story opens with a bang (actually an explosion) and Pepper throwing herself on top of a patient to protect him from falling beams. Because she had been called in to work at the last moment and had had a drink of wine with dinner, she finds herself facing disciplinary action and counseling. One of the two men killed in the explosion had been Avivah's senior officer in Viet Nam, a man who was also under investigation by the FBI and military intelligence officer Lieutenant Colonel Darby Baxterin. Someone is trying to kill Avivah or Pepper. But which one? And why?

For a third time, these three ex-soldiers find themselves with a murder or two on their hands. Once again, the sub-plots twist and turn, jolting the reader with surprise after unexpected surprise. Wildwind draws very real, psychologically complex characters. In the end, she tucks most of the loose threads into the narrative fabric, although there seems to be a hint of more story to come. If you enjoy being held in believable suspense by a fine writer, try Sharon Wildwind's mystery series.

Sharon Wildwind served in Vietnam as a U.S. Army nurse. A Canadian, she is married to a military historian.

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