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DEAD, WITHOUT A STONE TO TELL IT
by Jen J. Danna with Ann Vanderlaan
Five Star, June 2013
290 pages
$25.95
ISBN: 1432826956


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Given the slimmest of clues, a single human bone found in a beaver dam, Trooper Leigh Abbott, the only woman assigned to the Essex, Massachusetts Detective Unit (and generally unwanted by the rest of the detectives), is determined to find the rest of the body and to figure out what happened to the person and lay him or her to rest. She secures the reluctant help of Dr Matt Lowell, a prominent forensic anthropologist, who uses her little project as a teaching tool for his team of graduate students. Their search of the marshy area is complicated by a recent storm surge there, but is horrifically successful when they discover a series of similar graves, most of which contain two sets of remains instead of one: a naked tortured woman and a fully clothed man. From there the pace moves from quick to galloping and never flags.

Author Jen J. Danna and her writing partner Ann Vanderlaan hit all sorts of nails squarely on the head in this opening salvo in what we can hope will be a long and sturdy mystery series. The setting is wonderfully drawn with the exceptional perk of little introductory descriptions at the beginning of each chapter that inform and entice the reader -- these are so well done that they remind me of the interspersed descriptive passages in John Steinbeck's GRAPES OF WRATH. The setting is also cleverly chosen to offer formidable difficulties to the search team. The plotting, laden of course with the possibility of a budding relationship between Abbott and Lowell, is intricate and expertly done. Not a mystery novel for the faint-hearted, the evil grows wildly, frequently out of the characters' control, but never beyond the readers' interest. The character of protagonist Abbott is feisty and quirky, driven and frightened - a nice mix that invites readers back to learn more about her in future novels. Scientist Lowell is a bit of a cardboard character but has just enough flashes of promise that his development over further adventures seems assured. Plot and setting carry this novel well and the quality of the writing is high.

As a teacher of rhetoric I believed that we can only improve our skills in writing by writing more. I still think that is true and hope that Danna and Vanderlaan will avail themselves of a long and steady partnership that will bear that out.

Diana Borse is retired from teaching English at Texas A&M University-Kingsville and savoring the chance to read as much as she always wanted to.

Reviewed by Diana Borse, September 2013

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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