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Three and one half moon gifIntrigue Press (Hardcover), ISBN 1-890768-22-7
Alex Matthews writes what she knows. Since she lives in Oak Park, Ill., a Chicago suburb, she sets the Cassidy McCabe mystery series in her Oak Park neighborhood. Matthews, herself a psychotherapist with a thriving business in her home, gives Cassidy the same persona. Author and character share a love of things purple, chocolate and peanutty, and animals furry, bewhiskered and full of purr.  

Matthews' characters expertly demonstrate that illusive Chicago swagger, which gives them entree to most every place they don't belong. For example, in Cat's Claw, the fifth in the series, Cassidy worms her way into the home of her reclusive neighbor, Olivia Mallory, a.k.a. the cat lady, using the rescue of neighborhood feral cats as a bond.  

But just as Olivia loosens her grip on paranoia, someone kills her. Cassidy, feeling responsible for encouraging the woman to trust, begins her frantic search for the murderer and her own absolution. In the process, our amateur sleuth secures the help of her feisty grandmother, a wrinkled retiree with a wig wardrobe to rival Dolly Parton's. 

To complicate things, Cassidy's husband, investigative reporter Zach Moran, goes undercover, posing as a tough dope dealer by night and loving husband by day. Sometimes he gets his days and nights confused, and Cassidy faces a steely-eyed stranger in her house. But all for a good cause -- Zach sets his trap for dirty drug dealing cops. 

Book: Alex Matthews, Wanton's WebSadly, the author omits any references to Oak Park homes designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright. But Matthews paints a believable neighborhood plagued with a blend of problems including feral cats, quirky neighbors, violence, guns and illegal aliens. Matthews creates multi-faceted characters who face life's tribulations with a variety of attitudes. Unlike Olivia who hid from life, Zach and Cassidy, two independent adults, embrace truth, fight evil and most of all struggle to keep their marriage intact.  

Cassidy sees everything through an analyst's eyes, freely gives advice and not only analyzes the murderer's motives, but everyone she encounters from Olivia to the lawn care man. Obviously from the amount of italics signifying interior monologue, Cassidy needs someone to talk to. But the snappy dialogue (whether to herself or others) keeps the plot moving.  

And the mystery defies solution until the final nail-biting climax. Matthews satisfactorily ties up all story lines including the split-personality hubby, drug dealing cops, illegal aliens, gun toting neighbors and a few other surprising story complications. This psychological thriller smacks of originality, a sure treat for mystery readers. 

Dawn Goldsmith

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