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Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Missing Persons, by Clare O'Donohue ($15)

Kate Conway is a television producer of "20-20"- and "Dateline"-like segments. She has been asked to produce a show on Theresa Moretti, a young woman who disappeared about a year ago. Kate is to interview the family, friends, witnesses, and police detective involved. The show will highlight the puzzle and ask viewers to help solve the disappearance.

Kate usually maintains a friendly demeanor to get interviewees to talk with her, but as a veteran, she can turn it off when the job is done. Instead, she becomes personally involved when her home is broken into and her peace disturbed. She suspects that the invader may be related to Theresa's case.

Or the burglar may have something to do with her husband's recent death.

Kate and Frank were getting a divorce. Frank was living with Vera, a woman who claimed to be his fiancée. Although he was only 37 years old, Frank died of a heart attack. Another police detective is looking into the possibility of foul play, and Kate may be at the top of the suspect list, especially after it's discovered that she is the beneficiary of a hefty life insurance policy. And to her horror, Kate actually begins to not exactly hate Vera, but not quite like her either. Could Vera have murdered Frank and broken into Kate's home?

Clare O'Donohue raises her book's empathy factor by making Kate an ordinary woman in extraordinary circumstances. Kate must come to terms with her responsibility for the disintegration of her marriage, but it's too late to make amends to Frank, with whom she had been since they were teenagers. Also, O'Donohue looks at Kate's focus and ambition as a television producer, and puts that into the context of her personal morality. We get to tag along as Kate struggles with life-defining problems.

Unlike a lot of strong female characters in other books, Kate does not go haring off alone to capture a killer. O'Donohue cleverly inserts the characters of Andres and Victor, Kate's camera and sound people. They all enter Kate's home together to inspect it when taking Kate home. They all meet the suspects and witnesses together in Theresa's case -- and sometimes in Frank's as well. It may not seem like a big thing, but I felt relieved not to have to shout at the book the equivalent of "Don't open that door."

O'Donohue's characters are given individual and purposeful lives, and each brought something to the table. For example, goofy, foot-in-mouth Victor stood in for the reading audience. Right on cue, he suspected each character in turn for being the cause of Theresa's disappearance.

This was the enjoyable debut of a new series for O'Donohue, who also writes a quilting mystery series.

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