Book Review: Under the Shadows by Gwen Florio

Under The Shadows
A Lola Wicks Mystery #5
Gwen Florio
Midnight Ink, March 2018
ISBN 978-0-7387-5053-8
Trade Paperback

We’re all creatures of habit and the older we are, the more ingrained those become. Lola Wicks spent much of her adult life being independent and free to follow her instincts into dangerous locations as an investigative journalist. It took her late husband Charlie, who was a member of a Montana Indian tribe and a county sheriff, years to wear her down and marry him. Part of those wearing down years involved the birth of their now eight year old daughter, Margaret.

When Charlie was killed, smothering a bomb planted by eco-terrorists, while they were on vacation in Arizona, the unexpected wave of grief was so strong and unexpected that Lola found herself not only shadowed by Charlie’s ghost, but so distraught that she couldn’t take care of herself or her daughter. Her best friend, Jan, along with the Aunties (women elders of the tribe) did an intervention.

The result isn’t something Lola is initially willing to consider. The Aunties and Jan will care for Margaret while Lola goes to Salt Lake City where Jan has arranged for her to do a story on foreign adoption by Mormon couples for a church owned publication. Everyone’s hope is that the challenge, the geographic change, and the threat of losing her daughter to the Montana social services department will provide the kick in the rear she needs to return to the ranks of the living.

What Lola alone knows is that her nails-screeching-on-the-blackboard hold on sanity is being held together by industrial strength pain pills, sometimes the only thing that allows her any sleep and relief from Charlie’s ghost. They also compound her gradual distancing from caring and life.

No sooner does she arrive in Salt Lake City and gets off on the wrong foot with her new boss by almost sleeping through her initial meeting, than she discovers that Trang, now called Frank, the Vietnamese teen adopted at age ten, has been arrested and accused of the murder of his girlfriend’s mother. Since it was his hockey stick that cracked her skull, although her death was the result of a vicious slash across the woman’s throat, nobody seems interested in looking for an alternate suspect.

What this major upset in plans does do is start a faint rekindle of the spark that used to drive Lola’s investigative instincts. After she’s bought Vicodin from a nervous teen in a sketchy downtown park, nearly had her own throat cut, realized a smell from her own youth is attached to someone who might be the real killer, made friends with the accused teen’s girlfriend, discovered just how strange and inflexible Mormon culture can be around certain social issues and nearly been thrown in a Vietnamese jail, you, the reader, are feeling a bit like you just got off a wild carnival ride.

While many elements of the story are straightforward mystery plot items, what sets this apart are the intensity of Lola’s grief, how that has spread to impact others and how much secrecy and deceit occurred long before Lola ever landed in Salt Lake City. It’s part of a series, but can be enjoyed a lot without having read any of the others by Gwen Florio.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, May 2019.

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