|Judith Van Gieson: Shadow of Venus|
Signet (Paperback), ISBN 0-451-21134-0
University librarian Claire Reynier finds a mystery on her hands when an unidentified woman dies in a locked room in the library basement, apparently from a heroin overdose. Someone recognizes the body as a homeless person who struggled with addiction off and on. Everything else about the Jane Doe remains unknown -- no family members step forward to identify her or report her as missing. Claire, feeling a bond because the woman complimented her once, sets out to at least put a name to her and try to notify any family.
Claire's search takes her all over the desert, from Albuquerque to Taos to Indian ruins in Colorado, as well as on a personal journey to confront past demons. As a child, a friend's father molested her during a sleepover, prompting psychiatric problems throughout her life -- anxiety, agoraphobia and the like.
Learning the murdered woman's street name, Maia, Claire runs down all the clues the name provides. She discovers Maia's likely father and that Maia's mother killed herself. After painstakingly researching the mythological stories behind the name, Claire also suspects that Maia possibly suffered abuse as well.
Claire's investigation eventually confirms the abuse, and that may point to a motive and a suspect -- Maia's abuser still roams Taos, free and possibly molesting others, because no one will testify against him. Claire also fears for another homeless woman, Ansia, a friend of Maia's. Claire worries that Ansia may have endangered herself by giving Claire information about Maia.
Flat and dull as the New Mexico desert, Judith Van Gieson writes a plodding tale that focuses more on Claire's problems than the mystery. Van Gieson relies on a lot of dialogue, with Claire repeating the same phrases again and again in her search for Maia's true identity. Claire seems to spend the entire story either driving in search of someone or talking, which becomes very boring very quickly.
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