The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

April 2, 2010

Jacque Gage: Author of madcap mystery to visit library

This is my first review for the Globe as the new director at Joplin Public Library.

I have just begun my eighth week here as library director, and during this time many gracious people have welcomed me to my new position. Library patrons have stopped to introduce themselves while I have been in the library stacks. I have had a warm reception here. For this, I thank you.

On to business: I’m going to share a dirty-little-librarian secret, suspected by some, but not generally known: Most librarians have not read every book in the library!

I’m part of that group. Case in point: At 10 a.m. Saturday, April 10, Joplin Public Library has the honor of hosting author Carolyn Hart for a program and book signing.

Hart is a nationally-acclaimed mystery writer. She has won three Agatha Awards and a Pulitzer Prize nomination.

But I had never read any of her books. Because she is coming to the library, I thought it would be a good idea to be familiar with her writing and read one of her books.

The book I chose was Set Sail for Murder, the seventh and most recent addition to Hart’s “Henrie O” series. Fortunately, although Hart’s books are in a series, they are readable as standalone stories.

Henri O is Henrietta O’Dwyer Collins, a retired newspaper reporter with a nose for murder. In this book, she receives a call from a long-ago love, Jimmy Leonard.

Though Henrie O had refused his offer of marriage years earlier, she still has a place for him in her heart and responds to his request for help.

He is convinced someone in the family is out to murder his wife, Sophia. The wife is a stepmother from an earlier marriage to venture capitalist, Frank Riordan, to four grown children, for whom she holds the keys to a trust fund containing a substantial fortune.

After the marriage, she promptly shipped all Frank’s children off to boarding school. The oldest heir is turning thirty and according to the provisions of the will, it is now up to Sophia to dissolve the trust and give the heirs control or to maintain the trust and control their income for another ten years.

If Sophia were dead, however, all the money would be theirs immediately. Enter motive for murder.

Sophia’s current husband, Jimmy, is convinced someone is out to kill Sophia. First, a large boulder tumbles down the hillside at the precise moment Sophia walks by, and then an apparent attempt at poisoning occurs. Concerned, Jimmy asks Henrie O to investigate as the family meets at Sophia’s command aboard a cruise ship for a two-week Baltic cruise.

Is someone really out to kill Sophia? If so, who?

There’s a complete cast of likely characters in this highly dysfunctional family. There’s Alex, the oldest, about to turn thirty. He’s short, scrawny, and always in one financial scrape and failure or another. He’s married to an “ice blond with a frozen heart” who never met a jewel she didn’t like.

Then there’s Kent, who teaches at a college, runs triathlons and is somewhat a mystery. He’s a likable guy, although he radiates hatred when he’s around Sophia.

Rose dropped out of school spends time in dead end jobs. She also hates Sophia deeply.

The youngest is Val, an independent filmmaker. She is cool and aloof and has succumbed to a life of hidden alcohol problems.

Rounding out the family is Evelyn, the children’s aunt who is Frank’s spinster sister and who was brought into the household to help care for the children after their mother‘s death. A former school teacher, she has no financial need, being comfortably fixed through provisions in Frank’s will.

Did one of them try to crush her with a boulder, poison her wine, or push her down a long staircase during the cruise? All of them have a motive and the day of reckoning for the trust is approaching. Henrie O must help her friend Jimmy uncover the truth.

In an interesting mystery of family dynamics with fascinating characters, Henrie O does just that. I thoroughly enjoyed this cozy mystery.

If you want to find out who wants to do it, or if it was done, or who “dunnit,” check out “Set Sail for Murder.” Better than that, come see Hart in person.

Changing Hands Book Shoppe will have a selection of Hart’s books available to purchase and have autographed including her latest, “Laughed ‘til He Died,” which will be released on April 6. Come and enjoy Hart with us!