JO DERESKE – Final Notice.

Avon, paperback original. First printing, November 1998.

JO DERESKE Death's Shadow

   This is the sixth in Dereske’s “Miss Zukas” series, and as usual in my random, non-systematic way of doing things, the only one of them that I’ve read before this one is the one that follows this one.

   And in fact, the incident that initiates that very same next one, Miss Zukas in Death’s Shadow, occurs on pages 18 and 19 of this one – she’s given a traffic ticket on the way to the airport to pick up her elderly aunt who’s coming in from Michigan for a visit.

   Being a reference librarian either reinforces Helma’s sense of what is correct and proper, or it is what caused her to become a librarian in the first place. And being given a summons for turning right on a yellow light definitely does not fit her sense of what is correct and proper. Allow me to quote:

    “I can’t sign this,” she told [the policeman].

    “It’s not an admission of guilt, ma’am.” His voice grew louder, higher pitched. “You’re only acknowledging receipt of the ticket.”

    “Then you’ll have to make it readable. You’ve spelled Wilhelmina incorrectly. I believe the time noted here is three minutes into the future. I can see your badge number is 087 but I’m unable to read your name: Olsen? Carolson? Camden? This document is too illegible for me to sign my name to. I’d like a rewritten ticket, please.”

   Sure enough, at the beginning of the next book, the only one before this one that I’ve read, Miss Zukas is doing community service at a homeless shelter. I hope you don’t get the wrong idea, though. Miss Zukas is in her 30s, I believe, perhaps almost 40, but unfortunately I didn’t make a note of where I saw a reference to her age. If I have it wrong, I’ll change this small piece of data, and unless you remember, you’ll never know I had it wrong.

   But the point is, she’s not a dottering old lady librarian, and while she’s not married, she does have a sort of boy friend in Bellehaven’s chief of police, Wayne Gallant. (Bellehaven is a fictional town, I believe, in Washington state.) This romance, if indeed that is what it is, is the strangest romance I’ve ever read about, as they are both rather reticent to speak about their relationship, even to each other.

JO DERESKE Final Notice

   When Wayne Gallant’s ex-wife comes to town in Final Notice to reclaim her former husband, though, things between them (Helma and Wayne Gallant) begin to come to a boil. If a relationship can boil at less than room temperature, this one does. (He is always referred to Wayne Gallant, by the way, and when he calls Helma on the telephone, he says, “Helma, this is Wayne Gallant.” I found that … strange. In a nice sense, mind you.)

   The dotty old lady in Final Notice is actually Helma’s Aunt Em, who back in Michigan (where she has lived her entire life, so far, or so Helma believes but soon discovers that it was not so) she had a “brain incident” and has become in behavior rather, shall we say, eccentric. And talkative. About her past. A past that Helma’s family had never talked about. Especially the time Aunt Em spent in Chicago during the rum-running days of Al Capone.

   Dead in Helma’s apartment building parking lot is the same man who tried to steal Aunt Em’s purse at the airport. The identification is clinched by the three stab wounds in his arm produced by Aunt Em’s hat pin. Coincidence? Not very likely, but who? And why?

   I enjoyed this, indeed I did. The detective work is minor, but it’s not dislodged, disrupted and disposed of completely. The characters are only mildly wacky and perhaps just as normal as any other group of people, including Miss Zukas’s fellow librarians, especially the director, a lady who believes that psychological color testing is a good way to maintain staff morale. Miss Zukas refuses. Naturally.

   Here’s a list of all of Jo Dereske’s novel-length mystery fiction. Ruby Crane is a graphologist by profession, a forgery expert at a California detective agency. I’ve not read any of her adventures, but I’m sure that I read somewhere that she may be a cousin of Miss Zukas. If so, I imagine the cases she solves may be as much of a sneaky pleasure to read as this one.

    Miss Zukas. All are Avon paperback originals.

1. Miss Zukas and the Library Murders (1994)
2. Miss Zukas and the Island Murders (1995)

JO DERESKE Island Murders

3. Miss Zukas and the Stroke of Death (1995)
4. Miss Zukas and the Raven’s Dance (1996)
5. Out of Circulation (1997)
6. Final Notice (1998)
7. Miss Zukas in Death’s Shadow (1999)
8. Miss Zukas Shelves the Evidence (2001)
9. Bookmarked to Die (2006)

JO DERESKE Bookmarked

10. Catalogue of Death (2007)
11. Index to Murder (2008)

    Ruby Crane. All are Dell paperback originals.

1. Savage Cut (1996)
2. Cut and Dry (1997)

JO DERESKE Cut and Dry

3. Short Cut (1998)