Friday, September 19, 2008

Mystery Book Review: Stranger Room by Frederick Ramsay

Mysterious Reviews, mysteries reviewed by the Hidden Staircase Mystery Books, is publishing a new review of Stranger Room by Frederick Ramsay. For our blog readers, we are printing it first here in advance of its publication on our website.

Stranger Room by Frederick Ramsay

Stranger Room by
An Ike Schwartz Mystery

Poisoned Pen Press (Hardcover)
ISBN-10: 1-59058-535-6 (1590585356)
ISBN-13: 978-1-59058-535-1 (9781590585351)
Publication Date: August 2008
List Price: $24.95

Review: Picketsville sheriff Ike Schwartz investigates two deaths, one clearly a murder, the other possibly a tragic accident, at an antebellum mansion in Stranger Room, the fourth mystery in this series by Frederick Ramsay.

The murder is a curious case. The dead man, a visitor to the area, was found locked inside a stranger room, historically a room for passing travelers that was part of the main house but featured a separate entrance. There was no window nor was they any other means of entry. That he had been murdered is not in doubt; how it happened is the question at hand. The owner of the estate, Jonathan Lydell, claimed to not know the man. But what is even more unusual is that in 1864, another murder had taken place in the very same room under similar circumstances; that case was never solved. Ike's investigation gets more complicated when Lydell's daughter dies after falling down a flight of stairs. Was it an accident? Or could the two cases somehow be connected?

Stranger Room is much more than a locked room mystery. In many ways, it's an overview of a couple of weeks in the life of a small town sheriff. His relationship with the president of a local woman's college, his management of the police force, dealing with simmering moral issues and race relations in the town, and possible drug trafficking. That none of these disparate subplots interfere with the primary plot involving the murder investigation is quite remarkable. In fact, in many ways, it helps put everything into perspective.

As Ike ponders the case, he keeps coming back to the why. "The case is full of whys. Never mind the how the murder was done ... it's the whys. Someone shot Grotz who then went to the trouble to make it look like a locked room mystery. Martha Marie, for no reason at all, launches herself down the stairs." As Ike works out the why he also comes up with the how. And for everything else that happens, this is basically a locked room murder mystery. The good ones promise an ingenious solution and Stranger Room delivers.

Special thanks to Poisoned Pen Press for providing an ARC of Stranger Room for this review.

Review Copyright © 2008 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved.

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Synopsis (from the publisher): The elderly Jonathan Lydell III is proud of his family history. He is related to the Lees (both Light Horse Harry and Robert E. Lee) and to the Custis family (and thus to George Washington). But these connections don’t seem to matter to the current generation. In fact, they seem utterly disinterested in family, history, or position. But for Lydell, family history is the only real thing left—that and his antebellum house.

Lydell is committed to restoring the home to its antebellum configuration, complete with a stranger room—an attached room with its own entrance, separately locked and kept for use by unknown travelers. Found in many family homes in the 1800s, the room was intended to protect the family from unsavory guests.

Nearly 150 years ago, an inexplicable murder took place in the locked stranger room of the Lydell house. The murderer was never caught. As far as Lydell is concerned, this brutal history just adds to the rich character of the house. But when a new, identical murder is committed in the same room, not even sheriff Ike Schwartz and FBI agent Karl Hedrick can explain it. Why would history repeat itself? What could explain these identical murders? Could the Lydell family history hold the key?

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