Monday, July 14, 2014

Mad as Helen

Author:  Susan McBride
Genre:  Mystery

Four Stars

When tiny River Bend, Illinois, is hit by a string of burglaries even Sheriff Frank Biddle can't solve, the clients of LaVyrle's Cut 'n' Curl can hardly talk of anything but. There are no signs of forced entry and no fingerprints, and valuables are missing from secret hiding places, as if the thief knew what he wanted and just where to look.

Helen Evans wonders what the world has come to if even their once-quiet town isn't safe anymore. Then Grace Simpson, a big-city psychotherapist who had opened up shop in River Bend, is found dead on her bedroom floor, and Helen's granddaughter is caught with the murder weapon in hand.

Sure of the girl's innocence, Helen embarks on a little investigation of her own and turns up plenty of folks who aren't grieving a bit now that Grace is dead...


Grace Simpson is a psychoanalyst who practices in River Bend, with plenty of clients from among the townspeople.  She also has an assistant, Nancy, who just happens to be Helen Evans' granddaughter.  Grace is not only a demanding boss, she is also a very nasty one.  She berates Nancy constantly, and expects her to do everything for her, including waiting at her house while the carpenter does work.

But Grace has now decided to write a non-fiction book about her clients.  She figures as long as she changes the names and some of the details, she's good to go.  So when she finishes her book, she's under the impression tha Nancy has shredded all of the pages she hand-wrote out (not trusting computers and refusing to own one).  But when Nancy bumps into a local while in front of the beauty salon, the notebooks fall out and one of them falls into the hands of Mrs. Beamer, who is none too happy to hear what is included in the book.  A nasty scene follows between the townspeople and Grace, with the culmination of Nancy being fired.

When Grace doesn't show up for a scheduled meeting with her publisher, the sheriff and the publisher go to Grace's house the next day and find Nancy exiting, with a bloody bat in her hand, hysterical.  The sheriff assumes that Nancy is guilty, but Helen, tenacious as she is, is having none of it, and if the sheriff won't look for the guilty party, she will.

The book was a nice, quick read.  But a couple of things bothered me.  Even if the sheriff assumed (erroneously, of course) that Nancy was guilty, how could her fingerprints on the bat make her guilty if there was no blood on her or her clothes?  Blood spatter, people.  Plus, it was obvious she was only there for a few minutes.  If she's pounding on the door to ask Grace to let her in, and no people were around, if she was guilty, what was the point of that?  Why not just go in if she knew she was dead?  Why didn't the sheriff ask the neighbors if they saw anything?  (One did, and knew she had knocked on the door - surely she wouldn't lie just to make it seem the girl was guilty).  And Sheriff Biddle wasn't really looking at any of the other people, even though they, as being in the book, would have had a much better reason to kill Grace.  In my mind, Sheriff Biddle is inept or lazy, plus his wife talks a lot about his cases and really shouldn't.  That could sink a conviction one day.  Sorry.

Aside from that, I liked the book.  As I said, it was a nice, quick read.  It had enough of the mystery element to keep me interested, and the secondary plot of the burglaries was done nicely, and tied in well.  I did feel that more about the people of the town would have been nice, but maybe in later books we'll learn more so that the town becomes 'real.'  When all was revealed, it made sense, and came together nicely.  So, in the final analysis, four stars, which would have been five if it weren't for the problems with the sheriff.

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