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by Sara E. Johnson
Poisoned Pen Press, September 2019
320 pages
ISBN: 146421123X

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

The best thing about MOLTEN MUD MURDER is the description of the New Zealand locales. Sara Johnson writes evocatively about the geothermal mud pits (similar to those in Yellowstone National Park) and the protected Maori tribal island where most of the action in this mystery takes place. She is somewhat less successful in her efforts at building characters.

Alexa Glock, the main character in this first of a new series, is a forensic odontologist who has just finished a stint in New Zealand but is looking for an excuse to stay on longer. Her expertise in teeth makes her a natural to help out with a new murder that was discovered as tourists visited a mud pot only to find the body of a man with his head submerged in the boiling mud. Alexa offers to help but is rebuffed by the local authorities, led by Detective Inspector Bruce Horn.

Nonetheless, Alexa manages to insinuate herself into the investigation. Throughout the book, she seems more concerned with her daydreams about Horn than with her professional efforts. She continually steps out of her role in forensics to conduct interviews, and she has to be repeatedly cautioned to stay within her area of expertise. I found this unrealistic and somewhat juvenile. It seems very unlikely that a professional woman would act in this manner.

However, the Maori cultural background and the scenery made up for any inconsistencies in characterization. In the end, the book was a diverting read, and I will pick up the second in the series to see if Johnson matures as a writer and her character, Alexa Glock, matures as a forensics expert. I will be especially pleased if Glock stays in New Zealand so that Johnson can use her descriptive skills to bring more of the landscape alive.

Sharon Mensing, retired educational leader, lives, reads, and enjoys the outdoors in rural Wyoming.

Reviewed by Sharon Mensing, November 2019

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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