ROBERTA ISLEIB – Six Strokes Under. Berkley, paperback original; 1st printing, June 2002.
          — A Buried Lie. Berkley; paperback original; 1st printing, May 2003.

ROBERTA ISLEIB Cassie Burdette

   What’s the strong connection between golf and psychotherapy? You may ask, but if you’re like me, you probably wouldn’t have ever thought of the question until/unless you’d read this book and discovered the answer for yourself. I’m no golfer, but Roberta Isleib is, and in her real job, she’s a clinical psychologist, and I’m oh-for-two.

   Her series character heroine is budding LPGA superstar Cassandra Burdette, but her superstardom on the ladies’ professional golf tour will be nipped in the very same bud if she doesn’t qualify by doing well at Q-school. Complicating matters are two murders, one back home in Myrtle Beach, the one on the golf course in Florida where the tournament is going on.

   Having found both bodies, Cassie is a key figure in the investigation, if not the key suspect, prompting her to — in the true fashion of amateur detectives everywhere — try to find the killer herself. Or are there two? The pending matter of a case of sexual abuse that a fellow golfer has accused her father of — produced by not always reliable retro-memories brought back by hypnosis and other means — seems to be the common factor.

   But is it? Isleib’s characters have more than enough chicanery up their sleeves to spread the suspicion pretty much around, so it’s not as clear-cut as it may seem.

   This is, by the way, the Cassie Burdette’s first adventure in mayhem mixed up with golf. There are others on the way, but let me back up a little. I didn’t do a page count, but I think there is more emphasis on the golf than there is mayhem. In terms of an insider’s (fictional) view of how to play the game, how to manage your nerves and keep your concentration, I don’t think I’ve read a better example.

   In the terms of the murders and their investigation, if I told you I knew who the killer(s) was/were on page 68, you might think I was being totally negative, but I’m not, because (a) I didn’t know how or why, and (b) a couple of chapters later I was convinced that someone else had done it.

   The plot is not a perfect job of construction. Isleib is awfully skittish is telling us about the first victim, for example, who he was, and how he was involved in the legal case that’s present at the beginning. Let’s get on with it, you feel, while the story is skirting unceremoniously around it.

   All in all, however, this is pretty good, better than average, you might say, for a maiden effort. Promising, you might also say, and enough so for me to make it a point to follow Cassie and her career in golfing, as her success in the latter seems to be opening up new vistas for her.

   That’s assuming, you understand, that the Jessica Fletcher factor doesn’t start to kick in. With murders continuously following her around on the tour, who’s going to want to be in the same tournament with her?

***

ROBERTA ISLEIB Cassie Burdette

   So. I did say I was going to be following Cassie Burdette’s career, didn’t I? A Buried Lie follows soon after Six Strokes Under, with Cassie playing in a pro-am golfing tournament on the ladies’ professional tour.

   With, of course, murder following her. The female member of the foursome of amateurs playing with her on the first day is later found dead. The police believe that’s it suicide, but Cassie, donning her sleuthing clothes, thinks otherwise.

   What makes the first eighty percent of the book very much a step ahead of Roberta Isleib’s first effort is that there are several possible motives for the crime — the police are wrong, by the way, but I imagine you knew that. (1) The dead woman was in trouble at work, a pharmaceutical company: she has been insisting that something is wrong with the data in their analysis of a new drug product. (2) She was going through an angry divorce, and the proceedings seem have been getting messier. (3) She was a heavy gambler and may have run into problems with the Atlantic City mobsters. And finally but perhaps foremost, (4) the last person Cassie saw her with was a runaway girl whom she was trying to help by taking to her apartment.

   All of which makes for a sizable amount of detective work to be done. There are always problems in getting an amateur sleuth involved in matters of police business and none of hers, even if the police do not believe there is any business to be done, even in spite of a second murder, so that the bits of awkwardness that keep Cassie involved are essentially a given.

   It’s the last 20 pages where the author seems to let the story get away from her, in which (1) Cassie, working undercover, interviews for a job at a local escort enterprise, the adult kind. This reminded me of Angie Dickinson in the TV show Police Woman, where she almost always had to disguise herself in every episode as a stripper, an hooker, or a combination of both. (How do I know? I was watching.) Nothing explicit here, though, just some good humor.

   And (2) a final confrontation scene with the killer, which I can’t tell you about, but it’s certainly one that Nancy Drew never had occasion to be a part of. But I didn’t believe it when I read, I don’t believe it now, and (if you’re still with me), I don’t think I ever will believe it.

   The characters are fun to be with, however, with lots of foibles and semi-romantic entanglements to make them interesting, and the plot, while implausible, is still coherent enough to keep you (well, me, anyway) looking forward to Cassie Burdette’s next case of felonious mayhem and malice.

— December 2003

      The Cassie Burdette series –

1. Six Strokes Under (2002)
2. A Buried Lie (2003)
3. Putt to Death (2004)
4. Fairway to Heaven (2005)
5. Final Fore (2006)