Western Kansas historian Charlotte Hinger has incorporated her knowledge of family histories and the state into her first mystery, Deadly Descent. It's an intriguing story of murder, family secrets, and lies.
Lottie Albright is compiling county history books for Carlton County, Kansas when one family's stories blow up in her face. Following Zelda St. John's contribution of a racist account of the history of her Rubidoux ancestors, her twin sister, Fiona Hadley demands the copy of the story. When Lottie refuses to release it, Fiona storms out. Why is Zelda found murdered soon after? Why has Zelda's story disappeared, along with some valuable letters? But, Lottie had a copy since she gave it to her own twin sister, Josie, to analyze, since Josie is a clinical psychologist.
When Zelda's daughter, Judy, insists her Aunt Fiona murdered her mother, Lottie tries to shut down those comments. As campaign manager for Fiona's son, who hopes to be a state senator, Lottie doesn't want the family's dirty laundry aired in the small community. She tries to help Judy, providing her with a job at the historical society. Lottie even takes a job as a volunteer deputy to allow her to investigate.
But, Lottie's job as Carlton County historian should have warned her. "Its families had become tangled in little webs of intrigue." And, as she investigates one family, she uncovers family intrigue in another cold case. Unfortunately, Lottie's digging disturbs a killer who wants to keep family secrets.
Charlotte Hinger's debut mystery is a fascinating look at family dynamics and history. Lottie is an interesting woman, a twin, married against her sister's warnings, to a man much older with grown children. Her own family dynamics are interesting, and, while she sees her jobs as historian and deputy fitting well together, her husband, Keith, sees them as a threat to the family.
While the characters are not at all alike, I would recommend Deadly Descent to readers who appreciate the historic mysteries and family stories of Donis Casey. While Hinger's Deadly Descent is contemporary and darker than Casey's works, family dynamics are important in both. And, the histories of Western Kansas and Oklahoma are vitally important to the stories.
Leo Tolstoy is often quoted for saying, "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." Hinger can't go wrong focusing on unhappy families, and their histories. She's given Lottie Albright a great deal of material for future stories. Hopefully, Deadly Descent is just the first of many intriguing Lottie Albright mysteries.
Charlotte Hinger's website is www.charlottehinger.com
Deadly Descent by Charlotte Hinger. Poisoned Pen Press, ©2009. ISBN 9781590586457 (hardcover), 250p.