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The Hanged Man: A Tarot Card Mystery by David Skibbins
Review by Gayle Surrette
St. Martin's Minotaur Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780312377830
Date: 19 August 2008 List Price $24.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Interview: David Skibbins / Show Official Info /

Control versus chaos. Warren Ritter has built his life on routine -- a time and a place for everything. It's kept him free. However, over the last year, he's become involved in some murder investigations, made some actual friends, found his daughter and grandson, committed to a relationship, and turned his life upside down. When Sally's friend Dominatrix Thérèse de Farge is arrested for the murder of one of her clients -- Warren doesn't want to get involved. Sally is hurt and angry but moves on to solve the case with the help of her roomie, teenager Heather Tallbridge. But the cards won't let Warren alone; the Hanged Man keeps popping out of the deck. Now, he needs to look at himself and find a new way to live with chaos.

The fourth book in the Tarot Card Mystery series, it is a more complex mystery, weaving together two story lines and several points of view. Beyond the mystery, the characters are forced to recognize themselves, define themselves, and accept who they are. While there is a mystery to be solved, each book is also an exploration of the human spirit. Warren is crazy, for some definitions of crazy. He's manic/depressive and knows that he has limitations even with his medication, so he questions himself and his perceptions and feelings, testing them against what he knows of himself.

He's made a lot of changes to his life during the last three books and each change required accommodation. He was willing to make these changes but hadn't looked forward to see the repercussions. Committing to a relationship usually means accepting the need to assist the partner when they need help. Warren feels he's given all he can and wants to go only this far and no farther -- he wants his controlled predictable life. Sally knows that life can't be controlled. She's hurt but must help the friend who stood by her in her time of trouble.

Conflict usually drives us to change. Warren finds the cards won't let him stand aside, for the Hanged Man continues to pop out of the deck, taunting him to get involved. But the initial refusal may have soured the relationship with Sally. Can he help her free her friend and patch their still new relationship?

In this book, we learn more of Sally McLaughlin's background. She has her own inner demons to deal with. Heather Tallbridge, now living with Sally, steps in to help find a murderer, showing that she has a strong inner core in spite of all the problems she's had to deal with.

These books are, on the surface, easy reads: mystery, adventure, multi-dimensional characters, humor, drama, and information about tarot cards and numerology. Yet there is also many significantly deeper issues being questioned -- not in-your-face, but as part of the interactions between the characters and as the characters think about themselves. These thoughts and issues seem to stay with the reader long after the book is over. I learned in this one that I had some pretty nasty assumptions and prejudices regarding BDSM. I learned that to a greater degree my assumptions were wrong. It's definitely not for me, but at least now I have a better understanding of the practice and its practitioners. This whole plot thread was ultimately an eye-opener on many levels. So readers may want to be aware that this is a big element of the story.

Throughout the series, the characters have been growing, changing, and living. Fictional people, allowed growth, make books that also grow and develop with their cast and the skill level of the author. These books just keep getting better and better.

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