Monica’s Sister, by Earl Emerson *****

monicassisterAh, it’s good to be reading a Thomas Black story again. Black is back with his lovely wife, Kathy, a good-hearted woman who makes some interesting friends. One of them is Angela Bassman, a woman who shows up all the time like a bad penny, making ridiculous charges against anyone and everyone, and bragging about having so many friends in high places, having done such fantastic things, that one is left rolling one’s eyes. And so when Thomas hears Angela’s voice approaching his office, he does what any thinking human being would do: he leaps into the closet and shuts the door. Anything to avoid that woman!

The wheels of the story start moving, and things get more complicated. Angela, whose famous sister is the actress, Monica Pennington, hires Black to help her with what is supposed to be a simple task, but isn’t. He would like to back out, but he smells a rat. Despite the crazy nature of Angela’s claims, she is obviously being followed by someone. Strange things happen, and too many coincidences occur. Whether Angela is crazy or whether she isn’t, his detective’s intuition starts to quiver, and he becomes more entangled in her affairs than he had anticipated, especially when she falls to her death, and he sees it happen. Later, Pennington hires Black to find out why Angela killed herself. Because of course, that’s what happened…isn’t it?

Emerson, a Shamus winning author who sets his stories here in the misty Pacific Northwest, usually right here in Seattle, is one fine writer. Hundreds of interesting, free galleys come my way in a given year, but I wanted to read his story badly enough to put it on my wish list, and luckily, my spouse snapped it up and gave it to me for Mother’s Day. What a fantastic gift!

The overall tenor of the story begins as gut-bustingly funny, and then gradually darkens and becomes more suspenseful. By the story’s end, I was literally (yes, I do mean literally) sitting on the edge of my seat, putting off the family members that wanted my attention with a robotic “…just a sec. Just a sec. Yeah I know. Give me just a minute.”

Emerson also uses the occasion to talk a little bit about bipolar disorder, and the ways it can turn a person’s life upside down, but he does it in a way that prevents the book’s pace from hitching. It’s masterfully done!

If you like strong detective fiction, or fiction set in the Pacific Northwest, or both, you just can’t do any better than this book. Seriously recommended for just about everyone.

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