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by Judith Flanders
Minotaur Books, February 2015
277 pages
ISBN: 1250056454

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Judith Flanders has an attitude about the world of publishing. And a sense of humor. Her career evolved from book editing for various publishers to critical respect as the author of nonfiction books on Victorian England. A MURDER OF MAGPIES is her first novel, an auspicious debut.

Samantha "Sam" Clair, who tells this story in first person, is a book editor with problems. Her colleagues are competitive rather than cooperative. Good assistants are like hen's teeth. Her publishing house is known for its literary fiction, but Sam's "women's reads" pay the bills. Her most reliable best-selling author, Breda McManus, submits a manuscript that Sam deems embarrassingly bad. Inexcusable. How can the editor save this situation? Who among her colleagues will be willing to help? Sam is a likeable character who keeps readers caring.

Meanwhile, Sam's favorite author, Kit Lowell, writes gossipy exposés of the fashion world. His latest manuscript must be guarded until libel attorneys can examine every allegation before publication. First, a courier delivering the manuscript is murdered. Soon, Kit himself disappears. Sam's apartment is ransacked and she is attacked – for the manuscript? Police Inspector Jake Fields develops a personal interest in Sam's case. Possible suspects abound as more of the manuscript's assertions come to light. Is a French couture house a conduit for money laundering?

Many intriguing characters populate the novel. Minor characters have intereting lives and backstories. Sam's mother Helena is worthy of a series of her own. A remarkably indefatigable character, Helena is an attorney with an adventurous spirit and a large circle of friends and contacts. Sam says of her mother, "From time to time I consider the possibility that she is really two people, or perhaps a Martian."

Flanders' depiction of the publishing world is both discerning and at times hilarious. Her plot contains enough surprises to keep readers guessing. The conclusion is not entirely satisfying, but the mirth and characters are worth the journey.

§ Deb Shoss is a retired theatre producer/director, avid reader and former bookseller living in Sarasota FL.

Reviewed by Deb Shoss, February 2015

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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