Sheila Lowe delivers entertainment personified across the pages of Written Off, book 7 of her “A Forensic Handwriting Mystery” series.
Handwriting expert Claudia Rose is off to the snowbound and quaint township of Summerhays, Maine to retrieve the manuscript written by recently deceased Madeleine Maynard. However, it’s not just some run-of-the-mill story. Rather it’s the story of serial killer, Roxanne Becker. While in Summerhays, Claudia will also get to interview the famed killer before heading back home to L.A. When she lands in Portland, Claudia is greeted by driver Jim Spencer; hired to drive her the few remaining hours from Portland to Summerhays. The landscape is stark, and the conversation is light as they cover the miles to their end destination. Claudia is somewhat unsettled to learn she will be staying at the Captain’s House; home of the recently deceased Ms. Maynard. When it is clarified that Ms. Maynard didn’t die in her home, Claudia is somewhat relieved, but can’t seem to shake the notion there is more to Ms. Maynard’s death and the days ahead affirm her intuitions.
When they arrive at the Captain’s House, Claudia is greeted by the less than welcoming housekeeper, Melva. Hospitality and open arms are not her forte. With little time to achieve the task at hand, Claudia decides to discount Melva’s inhospitable ways and focus on the job she was hired to do. She needs to locate Madeleine’s notes and interview Roxanne and be back on her way to California—certainly matters she could accomplish in the few days’ time she devoted to do so. As the conversation evolves between Jim Spencer and Claudia, she is horrified to learn Ms. Maynard’s recent passing wasn’t from natural causes, but murder. Suddenly Claudia’s brief visit to Summerhays would entail more than gathering a manuscript and interviewing a serial killer. It would seem there was more to address than what Claudia was told the task at hand would be.
There is an age-old adage that a writer writes what a writer knows and Ms. Lowe rings true to such a notion. Being a real-life forensic handwriting expert herself, she manages solid credibility to fictional handwriting expert, character Claudia Rose. There are many layers that evolve as the story progresses and Ms. Lowe is a master of the art of suspense and intrigue. She is equally accomplished when it comes to character development. Having spent a part of my life growing up in central Maine, she is spot on with the nuances toward the local people not taking kindly to outsiders. I especially enjoyed the salty persona Ms. Lowe assigned to housekeeper character, Melva: ‘…The housekeeper gave the hand Claudia extended a quick shake and drop. “You can leave your coat here on the coatrack, Ms. Rose,” Melva said in the flat downeast accent of a lifelong Mainer…’ The tone is set, and the icy reception noted—a superb writing ability of showing her readers versus telling them. Ms. Lowe does not rush the story as she demonstrates a consistent and gradual build in plot; complementing it by introducing animated characters one by one. Like a seasoned veteran, she brings the plot to a terrific crescendo and does what only an accomplished writer does: she brings it on home with a slam dunk as she leaves her audience with the request: ‘May I please have another’? Well done Ms. Lowe. I look forward to the next book in this series.
Quill Says: Throw another log on the fire and settle in for a long winter’s night with a great read.