Book Review: Latest Donald Strachey mystery is 'smart, fun'

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Book 16 in the Donald Strachey Mystery Series by Richard Lipez of Becket, who writes under the pen name Richard Stevenson, is "Killer Reunion." Don Strachey mystery novels tuck right in with current cultural phenomena through characters that live and breathe, and get mixed up in, the trends affecting us all. In fact, these clever mysteries are full of sometimes hilarious personalities that would be unendingly entertaining if it weren't for the timely interruptions of murder. Which is the specialty of this wise-cracking and exceedingly droll Albany Private Investigator, Donald Strachey.

Consider how the novel begins: Strachey is attending a Callahan family reunion — the family of his husband, Timothy Callahan — at a Berkshire inn. With any large family reunion there are going to be conflicted political factions supporting conservative and liberal camps. The Callahan clan is by far no exception. But in the Trump era, maybe their opinions, on both sides, are more extreme than usual. In this perfectly crafted mystery novel, the extremes of politics and personality play out in the murder of one of the more vociferous and pugilistic of the clan — the progressive and irascible Carl Callahan, who has recently quit smoking cigarettes for the nicotine patch cure. This does not work out well for him, for both his self-control while alive and how he ends up dead.

Knowing the risks involved in setting up a family reunion of strongly encamped Trump supporters and Bernie Sanders enthusiasts, Strachey's husband, Timmy, and his sister, Beth, make it clear there must be strict boundaries on talk of politics. That quickly becomes laughable even before the reunion begins. The rumors from the start are about how Timothy's brother, Stan, the dutiful son, told his mother, who is in her last moments, that Donald Trump has been impeached. It was a kind of palliative care as he describes it. His mother hated Trump, especially his lying. So, it was with some irony that her last breath was described as something like relief. She "deserved something cheering to help her into the beyond."

This is the wry and clever wit of a Richard Stevenson mystery novel. Smart, fun, lively in dialogue and spiced with the nasty noir aspects of life that in these novels always end up with somebody getting murdered. Rest assured, in "Killer Reunion," as in any great mystery, you will never know whodunit until you have joined Strachey and his husband and sister-in-law through suspenseful twists and turns that involve the gritty repartee between the calm, superior mind of Strachey and his sympathetic, but somewhat clueless, local police representative on the case, Chief Anthony DiBella.

One of the most intriguing characters in the novel is "distant cousin" Gerald, who nobody seems to know, but has crashed the reunion to keep everyone spellbound by his highly entertaining and detailed genealogical histories of Callahans' past. The histories border on the unbelievable to most, but add color and mystery to the reunion with not a little suspicion. But Gerald is not of enough interest to Chief Anthony DiBella, who is convinced one of the younger Callahans, Grayson, has committed the murder and has him jailed on the charges. That's when Strachey gets involved, hired by Grayson's parents to clear him, if he can.

Colin Harrington is the events manager at The Bookstore & Get Lit Wine Bar in Lenox. He welcomes reader comments at charrington686@gmail.com.

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