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by Paula Matter
Midnight Ink, July 2018
288 pages
ISBN: 0738757829

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

One has to admire Paula Matter for setting some ambitious goals in her debut mystery, LAST CALL. She is not only has to build a plot, she has to create an engaging character that will resonate with her readers. She is also building a structure for future mysteries, so she has to include plot lines that may not resolve in this book, but will keep the reader coming for more. This reader applauds her efforts, although she was not entirely successful in reaching all of her goals.

Heroine Maggie Lewis makes her living (barely) as a bartender in a Veterans of Foreign Wars post in North Desoto, a small town in northern Florida. She had moved there six years ago with her husband Rob because he had received a job transfer. Tragedy struck four years later when Rob was mysteriously murdered, a crime that is still unsolved. They had been in the process of renovating an older home, which is rumored to have some treasure hidden on the premises. In order to make ends meet, Maggie, who apparently has no skills, gets a job tending bar at the VFW post where she and Rob had been members. She also does some work on the house to create a rental unit that she leases to a recently divorced ex-cop who lives there with his daughter and is planning to open a detective agency.

There is also an interesting cast of characters at the VFW post: Jack, a bitter Korean War vet who does not like the changes he sees in the world, and keeps a notebook of his complaints and observations of wrong-doings; Pete, the truck driver who brings in a string of pretty women, but doesn't seem to be able to sustain a relationship, Dick and JC, the guys who with their wives have been providing the leadership for the post for years, and Sam, Maggie's boss who is the club steward.

When Jack is found murdered in his truck at the post, and Maggie's hair band is found with the body, police chief Bobby Lee (his name is Robert E. Lee) brings Maggie in for questioning. Hot tempered and still grieving over her husband, Maggie believes that Bobby Lee bungled that murder investigation, and it is abundantly clear to her that someone is trying to frame her.

In self-defense, Maggie decides to do some investigating on her own, with the help of her tenant. There are secrets galore for them to discover, and to no one's surprise, Maggie does successfully solve Jack's murder by the end of the book.

Maggie's character just never really resonated with me; there are too many pieces of her life that are missing. Aside from the death of her husband, there is no back story to make her a believable figure. There is mention of a mother and a brother and then they are dropped. For me this book was like a puzzle with too many pieces. Perhaps if Maggie were a better developed character, I would be tempted to read the second of the series; as it stands now, I am not sure I would pick it up.

Phyllis Onstad has been a writer, editor, civil servant, teacher and voracious reader. She currently lives in the California wine country.

Reviewed by Phyllis Onstad, September 2018

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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