A Quiet Death

  • Marcia Talley
  • Severn House
  • 198 pp.

Crime-solving by coincidence, in the latest mystery featuring the intrepid Hannah Ives.

Reviewed by Lawrence De Maria

Billed as “the new Hannah Ives mystery,” Marcia Talley’s latest book, A Quiet Death, could easily be subtitled How to Solve a Crime Using a Series of Coincidences While Describing What Everyone Is Wearing.

Of course, that probably would be too long a title, especially for so short a book, which clocks in at 198 pages.

Actually, some of the sartorial descriptions are entertaining, as are the minutia related to people and places. If the devil is in the details, this would be a hell of a book. But, to be fair, if it weren’t for all the descriptions, A Quiet Death would qualify as a pamphlet.

A Quiet Death is the 10th offering in the Hannah Ives series, and it is not without its pleasures. When she puts her mind to it, the author can write. Her description of the horrific train wreck that kick-starts the novel is frightening and first-rate. The crash, inspired by an actual Washington Metro catastrophe in 2009, propels protagonist Hannah into a hospital and then into the mystery, since she inadvertently winds up in possession of a shopping bag full of love letters. The bag belongs to a man named Zan, who was next to her on the train. They chatted. The train crashed. She wound up with a broken arm. He wound up bent like a pretzel under a seat, near death. Before they are rescued, he tells her he may have killed someone. Fade to black.

Hannah’s recovery is slow and painful, but that doesn’t stop her from trying to find Zan, who has survived the accident but disappeared. She wants to return the letters, which she has read, looking for clues to his identity. (Let us ignore the option of giving the letters to the police and having them track down a possible murderer. There isn’t much of a market for 40-page novels.)

The letters detail an intense love affair years earlier that resulted in Zan’s birth. Hannah is charmed by the lovers’ passion and journey, which included the requisite stop in Paris. There are photos. A handsome man. A stunning girl. To go further would be unfair to the author. It would also indicate that the reviewer understood the plot, which is not the case.

Suffice it to say, there was a murder (several, in fact, though perhaps not all related), media bigwigs are involved, Hannah Ives can get information out of anyone, and every amateur sleuth needs a brother-in-law in law enforcement who can access secret material. The all-knowing Internet, conveniently placed surveillance cameras, old doddies with crackerjack memories and characters who must have gone to a school for suspects don’t hurt either.

A Quiet Death is the quintessential “cozy,” in which a spunky woman travels all over the East Coast trying to solve a mystery. In Hannah’s defense, this is apparently what she does while not knitting sweaters or cooking brownies. There are numerous references to past “cases,” in which Hannah was apparently nearly killed several times. One wonders if her long-suffering husband, Paul, is merely supportive, or hoping for a different outcome. That’s probably unfair. They appear happily married, if one can judge from the Elizabeth Barrett/Robert Browning dialogue.

As for those coincidences. Most people make do with six degrees of separation. The family, friends, suspects, victims and helpful witnesses that populate A Quiet Death could easily exchange Christmas cards.

Coincidences aside, Hannah’s investigative prowess is formidable. Rupert Murdoch’s editorial staff probably gathers less in a month, hacking and all, than Hannah on a good day. She knows her way around the Internet and Washington, D.C., which is even more impressive. She is a dogged interviewer and has the multitasking abilities of an octopus. And she has strong opinions, although one of the book’s weaknesses is that the author, writing in the first person, channels Hannah to settle scores or make political points. It’s pretty clear that Catholic bishops offend Marcia Talley and that at some point Delta Air Lines lost her luggage.

On the plus side, the characters are well drawn, even the minor ones. True, there may be too many of them. Only Colonel Mustard in the library doesn’t make an appearance. Probably a blessing, because having the author describe what’s in a library is not something one wants to contemplate.

A final quibble. There is a scene in which a murderer aims a large gun at our intrepid Hannah, fully intending to shoot her full of holes. The gun is knocked out of the miscreant’s hands. Hannah picks it up and throws it into a burning house (don’t ask) allowing the killer to escape. It is the rare person, one imagines, who is so anti-violence or, perhaps, anti-gun, that he or she would not just point the gun at the assailant and wait for the authorities. A good portion of the populace might just shoot the previous gun holder, just to be on the safe side. Although it is not mentioned in this scene, it would not be surprising if the thug did a double take before fleeing, probably to find a convenience store to buy a lottery ticket.

Lawrence De Maria was a senior editor and writer at the New York Times and Forbes. His many front-page articles led the Times’ Pulitzer Prize-nominated coverage of the 1987 stock market crash. De Maria lives in Naples, Florida, where he writes novels and short stories, is a film and book critic, and lectures on financial journalism. His new novel, Sound of Blood, is available through his website, www.lawrencedemaria.com

comments powered by Disqus