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American/Cozy Mysteries

Written in Blood, Sheila Lowe, Obsidian, $6.99.

Written in Blood by Sheila Lowe

I admit, I approached this book (a book club choice) with some trepidation. A forensic handwriting mystery sounded pretty gimmicky to me, but I was pleasantly surprised, both by Lowe's writing and by her inclusion of handwriting analysis details that turned out to be interesting. Lowe's series character is Claudia Rose, a handwriting analyst who has a cop boyfriend. That's kind of an expected development in a cozy these days; what wasn't so expected were the sharp plot and unusual setting, which is kind of not so cozy. Claudia is initially asked to verify a signature on a will—the wife is the sole heiress, the will cutting out the man's adult children who are (of course) contesting the will. One of the things that's left to Paige, the widow, is a school for troubled children in ritzy L.A.

Paige reaches out to Claudia, saying she needs a friend, and Claudia is drawn into the life of one of the teens at the school, Annabelle, who she hopes to help with a kind of handwriting therapy. Claudia's boyfriend is skeptical of her involvement with Annabelle, saying she's nothing but a manipulator, and since he's a cop, you figure the guy knows what he's talking about. When Annabelle and Paige both disappear, however, all bets are off as Claudia teams up with Annabelle's gangster father in the hopes of finding the girl she's become so attached to. While the emotional complexities of the relationships in the story are well handled, I thought there were some occasions toward the end of the novel where the "idiot plot" took over, and Claudia behaves in classic fem-jep fashion, only to prove herself a more than feisty heroine later in the story.

Despite my caveats, this book went down like a spoonful of sugar, and I wouldn't mind adding Shelia Lowe to my guilty pleasure column. I enjoyed meeting Claudia—and Annabelle.

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