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Damned if You Don't by Anita Page
Review by Don Metzler
L&L Dreamspell Trade Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 9781603183819
Date: 06 January 2012 List Price $14.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Blog / Show Official Info /

"SafeHarbor," was all Hannah got out before the woman at the other end began crying, her words garbled. "Are you hurt? Can you tell me what happened?"

The woman was trying, but she was difficult to understand. She sounded like she'd had six shots of Novocain. Or been punched in the mouth. Pregnant, Hannah finally made out. Then, dog's chain. He'd hit her with the chain.

Andrea was cueing Hannah, covering the mouthpiece of her phone. "Get the location!

"Tell me where you are so we can get you help," Hannah said.

Something Road, the woman said. One garbled syllable. "Say that again," Hannah said, and the woman repeated it. "Ball Road?" Hannah asked, and let out a breath when the woman said, "Yes." Yesh.

"Name," Andrea prompted.

Of course. Jesus. "I never got your name," Hannah said.

"Mary--" the woman said, and then screamed. Then a gunshot so loud it sounded as if it were in the room.

Hannah Fox's first volunteer phone shift with SafeHarbor turns out to be more than she had bargained for. A frantic call to the hotline for at-risk women concludes with the crack of a gunshot. SafeHarbor administrator Andrea Dubois insists on driving out to the location where the anonymous caller had said she was phoning from, and Hannah rides along. But after the police spend hours combing the area, no evidence is found that any crime has taken place.

As if this episode isn't complication enough in Hannah's normally sedate routine, the very next morning she has a visit from her close friend Joy Fisher. Joy has just learned that the town council has begun an eminent domain proceeding against the property that she inherited from her recently deceased father. The Town of Winchester intends to seize the property and turn it over to a local developer who has grand plans for condominiums and high-end retail shops. Hannah vows to help her friend fight this injustice. But before she can get far with organizing a protest movement, George Wright, the developer in question, is found murdered in his home.

Suddenly everything has changed, as Joy Fisher becomes one of the primary suspects in the killing. Hannah, a grade school teacher who is no detective by either nature or training, nevertheless realizes that she must do some sleuthing on her own if she is to have any hope of helping Joy out of this jam. But her amateur detecting is complicated by the fact that while Joy admits to having briefly visited George Wright at his home on the evening of the murder, she cannot, or will not, account for her whereabouts after that visit.

Hannah's life has become more complicated than she would wish in other ways as well. For reasons she does not understand, her twenty-five year marriage to husband William seems suddenly to be teetering on uncertain ground. Their long distance arrangement, William's new job requiring him to keep an apartment in New York City while Hannah continues to inhabit their long-time home in the Catskills, is not working out as well as they had hoped. Additionally, Hannah's budding friendship with State Police Investigator Jack Grundy is proving to be a complication not only in her desire to help Joy Fisher, but also in her efforts toward keeping her marriage together.

Author Anita Page's debut novel is a winner, start to finish. Page's characters come alive with the everyday concerns, fears, and challenges of real people, the sort of challenges that most of us deal with on a regular basis. The situations and scenes that Page draws are believable and down-to-earth, sometimes gut-wrenchingly familiar. From Hannah's involvement at a help center for battered and at-risk women, to the shady, graft-ridden politics of small town America, it all rings true. The sometimes lush but always well-developed settings in the Catskill Mountains of New York provide a backdrop that adds color and visceral substance. The prose is crisp and enjoyable to read, and the story moves at a pace that keeps the reader involved, but never seems frantic or hurried.

Damned If You Don't can be heartily recommended to all devoted readers of detective fiction. At more than one juncture in the book Page offers homage to a handful of mystery writers who have preceded her, most notably to the late Tony Hillerman. If this is where Anita Page studied her craft, then she obviously was paying attention and learned well. I think that Tony would approve her understated method of allowing the characters and the settings tell the story, rather than resorting to the easy road of blasting the reader with over-the-top scenes of violence and gore, which seems increasingly to be the fashion these days. Anita Page’s writing style makes for very worthwhile reading.

The conclusion of Damned If You Don't leaves the door open for this becoming a series rather than a one-time effort. Future novels featuring amateur sleuth Hannah Fox would be welcome indeed.

Our Readers Respond

From: Maryann O'Brien:
Sounds very intriguing with many interesting plots and characters.

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