Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Mystery Book Review: Civil Twilight by Susan Dunlap

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

Civil Twilight by Susan Dunlap

A Darcy Lott Mystery

Counterpoint (Hardcover)
ISBN-10: 1-58243-452-2 (1582434522)
ISBN-13: 978-1-58243-452-0 (9781582434520)
Publication Date: August 2009
List Price: $25.00

Review: Stuntwoman Darcy Lott is drawn into a decades-old murder when she meets a woman who is found, just hours later, dead in Civil Twilight, the third mystery in this series by Susan Dunlap.

Darcy is reluctant to meet with Karen Johnson, a client of her brother, the lawyer, but agrees and takes an immediate liking to her. They make plans to meet for dinner, but Karen unexpectedly steals a police car -- belonging to Darcy's other brother, the cop -- which is later found in the parking garage of a building under construction. The police find Karen's body on the adjacent highway, an apparent suicide. Darcy knows Karen didn't kill herself -- the body was too far away from the building if Karen had jumped -- but neither of her brothers is particularly cooperative in helping explain her relationship to them. She proceeds to investigate on her own, following a single lead to a remote community in northern California and then on to Alaska, to learn more about the mysterious Karen Johnson and why someone would want to kill her.

Civil Twilight is one of those mysteries that, despite a lot of action in the first chapter or two, starts slowly, methodically laying a foundation for what ultimately becomes a first-rate story. There would seem to be little reason for Darcy to pursue her investigation other than her desire to know what really happened ... and why her brothers weren't being forthcoming about it. But it works here. Darcy's profession as a stuntwoman also serves her character well: she's known as a risk-taker, albeit a smart one, by her friends and colleagues. Still, at one point a detective on the case says to her, "Karen Johnson did something that got her murdered. I don't know what. But her killer's out there somewhere. Be careful. Seriously careful." There are a considerable number of twists and misdirections that keep the plot interesting, without unnecessarily complicating it, no small feat on the part of the author.

The book includes many references to Zen that put a unique spin on the story being told. Primary among them is the koan that is at the heart of the story: You are atop a hundred-foot pole. How do you proceed? By letting go, Darcy reasons, "not releasing your grasp and falling in terror, but rather stepping out of the past, out of who you are, into the next moment, whatever that moment brings."

The title comes from the term "civil twilight", the time of day between clear afternoon and the first shadow of dusk, the last time one sees clearly before artificial light is needed. It's an appropriate title for a mystery that involves a case that, when viewed from a different perspective, takes on a whole new meaning.

Special thanks to Counterpoint Press for providing a copy of Civil Twilight for this review.

Review Copyright © 2009 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved

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Synopsis (from the publisher): San Francisco stunt double Darcy Lott specializes in creating the illusion of serious danger. But when her lawyer brother calls and asks her to wine and dine a mysterious client, the danger is no illusion.

Darcy takes an instant liking to the client, Karen Johnson, but there are too many unanswered questions. Karen claims to be getting a divorce, but Darcy?s brother Gary doesn?t handle divorces. And when he insists that their older brother John, a cop, must not know of their meeting, Darcy?s red flags are raised. Who is this woman? And why does she need a high-powered lawyer?

Soon, a murder shocks the city and John is the primary suspect. With John and Gary both in hiding and the police anxious to pin the death on John, Darcy finds herself with no one she can trust. Desperate for an end to the madness, she delves deep into Karen?s past, only to uncover a scheme even more shocking than murder itself.

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