by Sharon Tucker
If for you, Valentine’s Day is not a merely a commercial construct, but rather is a holiday that provides a chance to express, even if only superficially, affection and a desire for romance, then have I got three mysteries for you! All involve protagonists who are romance-conflicted, possibly even romance -impaired.
Susan Wittig Albert’s Love Lies Bleeding is her sixth China Bayles mystery which finds herbalist Bayles no longer doing her best to keep Criminal Justice professor McQuaid at arm’s length. All M. C. Beaton’s Hamish Macbeth wants in the world is to be left alone to police his small corner of Scotland, preferably free of romantic entanglement these days, since he has abysmal luck with women. Francesca Wilson may finally be an ambitious and successful British civil servant, but conflict arises in her life altogether too often in the form of shepherding her four talented, unruly brothers while trying to maintain some semblance of a love life with DCI John McLeish. In Death of a Partner, Wilson’s family may finally come between her and a life with McLeish–either her family or McLeish’s ill-contained resentment of them.
Death of a Valentine finds Hamish Macbeth saddled with an unwanted constable assigned to him in Lochdubh, his quiet patch in the Highlands of Scotland. It’s difficult to know whether Macbeth is more unsettled by his promotion to sergeant or by the arrival of Policewoman Josie McSween, who has every intention of living in the police station with him, indeed of marrying him and reorganizing his life. To her chagrin, Macbeth proves to be as ingenious at avoiding McSween as she is at trying to make herself indispensable to him. However, this dance slips into the background when the theft of valuable jewels and two violent explosions in and around Lochdubh require Macbeth’s attention to detail and knowledge of his fellow country folk to solve both mysteries. However, perhaps the larger issue here is whether or not Hamish Macbeth has finally met his match in McSween!
Pecan Springs may be a charming resort town in the hill country of Texas, but it has more than its fair share of strong-willed, independent women–even for Texas. China Bayles, our protagonist in Love Lies Bleeding, is a former upwardly mobile defense attorney who has had second thoughts about her career path. Instead, she has opted for the quiet life of growing and selling herbs rather than defending unpalatable clients.
Why can’t she seem to escape her past? Possibly it’s because her friends and acquaintances in town keep coming to her for legal advice and involving her in investigations. In this sixth of twenty-three China Bayles mysteries, as Valentine’s Day nears Bayles has all but decided to marry her long-time love, Mike McQuaid. The trouble is he hasn’t asked her in quite a while. She is confident enough to turn the tables and ask him herself, but before she can put her plan into action, a retired Texas Ranger that McQuaid knows commits suicide and McQuaid gets drawn into the investigation.
As the investigation progresses and evidence points more and more toward murder, the dead ranger’s wife becomes the prime suspect in her husband’s murder, and it doesn’t help that the wife’s gun was the murder weapon.
Janet Neel’s Death of a Partner explores the ongoing bonding of Scotland Yard DCI John McLeish and Francisca Wilson, an ambitious civil servant who can turn her hand either to working in the upper echelons of the British bureaucracy, or righting the accounts of a university on shaky fiscal ground. Their professions cross paths in unexpected ways in each of Neel’s novels, but here as we begin, Wilson has dropped everything and is off to New York on yet another family rescue mission, in this case to save one of her four brothers from the consequences of a drug arrest in New York.
The eldest and only female sibling in her coterie of brothers, she allows them to depend upon her to an uncomfortable degree as far as McLeish is concerned. He knows Wilson will use her influence with an American political figure to obtain leniency for her brother, despite the scandal she and the senator have caused all too recently. To further complicate the issue, when Scotland Yard is called to investigate the disappearance of one of the partners in a high-powered law firm, McLeish finds himself constantly in the company of a beautiful, available police sergeant. Wilson and McLeish both want a life together, but the problem lies in hashing out the details.
Neel’s characters are complex and well-drawn, often finding themselves in trying ethical and moral dilemmas, but although they quarrel, eventually they work their way through temper, estrangement and physical perils with varying degrees of success. Her mysteries are about adults who don’t have all the answers and make grave mistakes.
Yes, Valentine’s Day is for lovers–perhaps especially for dysfunctional lovers because it gives them yet another chance to make amends and sort out their issues. Authors Albert, Beaton and Neel know that obstacles in love may not make the heart grow fonder, but they do know that overcoming obstacles is the test that love needs to stand in order to be true.
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