|Jo Dereske: Miss Zukas in Death's Shadow|
Books (Paperback), ISBN 0-380-80472-7
Miss Zukas' matronly exterior covers a soft heart and a creative, romantic soul, while her cool manner camouflages her growing affection for police chief Wayne Gallant. But, when falsely accused of a traffic violation, Miss Zukas' innate sense of right and wrong prompts a refusal to pay the fine. Even a twitter-pated police chief can't dismiss such behavior and readily enforces the judge's sentence: 50 hours of community service. This brings Miss Zukas to the Promise Mission for Homeless Men and smack into the middle of a mysterious murder.
Complications arise. The victim, none other than Miss Zukas' sworn enemy, Quentin Vernon Boyd, turns up dead outside the Mission. Boyd, the newest member of the Bellehaven Public Library board of directors endorsed censorship and book burning -- two attitudes Miss Zukas opposed adamantly at the last board meeting. Could she be suspected of murdering him? Preposterous!
Maybe the quiet, thoughtful, generous Brother Danny, founder of Promise Mission, did him in. After all Boyd, who served on the grant committee, stood between the Mission and the much needed operating money. Or maybe the strange Miss Moon, Miss Zukas' supervisor at the library, snuffed him. So many people wished the civic-minded Boyd dead. Or, perhaps madness or pure violence motivated the killer in this rough section of Bellehaven. Miss Zukas uses her problem-solving skills, heightened by decades working as a reference librarian, to solve the crime.
Dereske writes a rather low-key mystery with quiet twists and introspection. She allows Miss Zukas to grow and confront her assumptions about homeless men. Through her eyes, readers progress from a rubber gloves and disinfectant approach to members of the Mission, to a tentative friendship. Finally, both Miss Zukas and readers emerge with a better view of their own misinformed attitudes.
Although readers may yearn for literary references and library-centered high jinks, Miss Zukas spends most of her time away from books. Nonetheless, the author offers a not-too-predictable mystery with multi-faceted characters whose lives enrich the read. The homeless men resemble stereotypes, yet the final twist leaves readers satisfied. Dereske offers the promise of happily-ever-after for everyone -- except the victim and his murderer, of course.
I recently finished reading the Miss Zukas mystery book Final Notice. The book was about the unknown and surprising past of Helma's aunt who was coming to Washington for a visit.
Since completing that book, I have bought three more Miss Zukas mysteries. I am currently reading Island Murders. I had been reading mysteries by Mary Higgins Clark, which I enjoyed, but find I enjoy the Miss Zukas series so much more. The female heroines that Ms. Clark writes of are always described as early thirties, and coincidentally wealthy, thin, beautiful, and MENSA-smart. I am 33-years-old, so Miss Zukas is only a bit older than I and a more relatable character. Miss Zukas is obviously smart but a hard worker and realistic. I love her friend, Ruth. Don't we all have a friend "Ruth?"
Click here to share your views.