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Index to Murder: A Miss Zukas Mystery by Jo Dereske
Review by Colleen Cahill
Avon Mass Market Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780060790868
Date: 01 May 2008 List Price $6.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Webpage / Show Official Info /

Artists and murder seem to go together; look how many Agatha Christie mysteries involve that bohemian crowd. In Jo Dereske's latest Miss Zukas Mystery, two pieces of art disappear and the only tie between them seems to be the subjects of the works were both murdered. It takes the best librarian sleuth of Lithuanian descent to unravel this tangled problem.

When Helma Zukas' best friend Ruth Winthrop is devastated by the departure of her lover, Helma suggests the artist turn to painting as a release. Ruth takes this on with a vengeance, creating a series of paintings depicting the disappointments in her life, especially when they involved men. Just before the gallery opening, someone breaks in to Ruth's house and takes two of the paintings, ones about two local men who had died recently under suspicious circumstances. Also, both men had affairs with Ruth (hence her painting them in her life's disappointment series). Sure that she is the next target for mayhem, Ruth begs Helma to help find out who took her works.

Ruth certainly does need help, as she sometimes displays a sad lack of judgment, as when she breaks into the house of Roxy Lightheart under the belief that this fellow artist was jealous of her work. It takes both Ruth's wild stabs in the dark and Helma's methodical probing to reveal the actual reason that the paintings were taken.

Dereske, who is a former librarian herself, definitely sets up Helma as the ultra-stereotypical librarian. This is a woman who is more than compulsively neat; she rotates her dinner plates so that they all wear at the same rate. One would think that as a librarian myself, I would be offended by this, but I found Helma charming and actually would like some of her pose and intelligence. Certainly Ruth is the archetype of the wild artist, living for the moment and always with her emotions turned up loud. These two friends must enjoy each others contrasts, as they have very little in common. Everyone in this book is a bit over the top, from Helma's ex-boxer neighbor TNT to her aging Aunt Em, but they are also very human, a combination that is compelling. Even though Helma keeps her life in strict order, things are not quiet; the library directory has broken her leg (perhaps for political reasons), Helma's apartment complex is suddenly up for sale, and Police Chief Wayne Gallant definitely wants to talk to Helma about something other than the current mystery, something a bit more personal. A little investigation and research are a nice change for this chaos.

This cozy mystery is great fun and the problem of the missing paintings an intriguing puzzle, one that definitely goes to unusual places. I was delighted to learn there are ten other Miss Zukas mysteries out there, just waiting for me to track them down. Fans of Miss Zukas will rejoice in this new title and Index to Murder is a good place to start enjoying this amusing series. After all, what could be better than a librarian sleuth?

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