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Mystery author #45: Susan Dunlap

Title: Karma
Series detective: Jill Smith
No. in series: 1
Year of publication: 1981
Type of mystery: Murder
Type of investigator: Police
Setting & time: Berkeley, California, USA; 1980s

Jill Smith is off duty when she witnesses the mysterious murder of a guru at a Buddhist temple, but as the first officer on the scene she gets to lead the investigation, which soon turns out to be anything but simple. A number of people have various reasons for wanting the victim dead, most of them have something to hide, and none are willing to reveal all they know.

This is an enjoyably twisty mystery, plot driven with a nice old-fashioned puzzle plot. There are a number of red herrings, and like in so many good detective novels, the murderer is hiding in plain view all the time.
The negative thing is that Jill, the investigator, is in no way a unique character. She is just a typical stereotypical literary cop: married to her job, divorced because of it, seems to have few friends (all of them cops), lives like a slob because nothing matters except her job, etc. Her voice – this being a first person narrative – is in no way special, simply a straightforward storytelling that could just as easily have been written in the third person, and worst of all: the author seems to have neglected to give her a sense of humour. I hope Dunlop will allow her to grow a real personality in the following books.

Rating: An enjoyable puzzle plot with a bland lead character. 2+ stars.

Title: Too Close to the Edge
No. in series: 4
Year of publication: 1987
Type of mystery: Murder

Jill Smith helps a wheelchair-bound activist home after a minor accident. The next day she is called to the scene of the woman’s murder, at the edge of an old landfill currently occupied by transients and old hippies, but intended as a future building site for an apartment complex for disabled people. The woman turns out to have been involved in the scheme, and as Jill delves deeper into the case and the woman’s personal life, it turns out that either or both could have been the cause of the murder.

This time around there is humour, mostly of the “I so know what she’s talking about” kind. Jill has developed a personality (of sorts), but I have discovered that I just don’t like her, perhaps because I see in her some negative traits that I don’t like in myself (never mind which ones). The plot is tight and well-thought out, and while I had my suspicions about the identity of the killer and their reasons (which turned out to be right), it was fun to see the plot unfold and some pretty good thriller elements pop up near the end.

Rating: Another good plot-driven puzzle mystery. 3 + stars.

Verdict: I don’t feel like doing an analysis so I will let it suffice to say that I recommend the above books, and expect the rest to be of similar quality. I will definitely be reading more, but since neither book is a keeper, I think in the future I will get Dunlap’s books from the library.


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