JEAN HAGER – Sew Deadly.

Avon, paperback original. First printing, December 1998.


   At one time Jean Hager had three different mystery series going, but while I’m not 100% sure, there doesn’t seem to have been any books to appear from her in a while. She was born in 1932, so if she happens to be retired from writing, as seems likely, she’s had a very decent career to show for it.

   Ms. Hager wrote romances in the beginning, under both her own name and under several pseudonyms, before edging her way into mystery fiction by writing Gothics (as Amanda McAllister and Sara North) in the late 1970s. Her first true detective novel may have been The Grandfather Medicine in 1989 — but let’s do it the easier way. Here’s a complete list of all the books in each the three series that I mentioned just a minute ago, thanks primarily to Crime Fiction IV, by Allen J. Hubin:

   Chief Mitchell Bushyhead: [half-Cherokee and head of the four-man police force in Bushkin, Oklahoma]

      The Grandfather Medicine. St. Martin’s, 1989.
      Nightwalker. St. Martin’s, 1990.
      Ghostland. St. Martin’s, 1992.
      The Fire Carrier. Mysterious Press, 1996.

JEAN HAGER The Fire Carrier

      Masked Dancers. Mysterious Press, 1998.

   Molly Bearpaw: [a major crimes investigator and advocate for the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma]

      Ravenmocker. Mysterious Press, 1992.
      The Redbird’s Cry. Mysterious Press, 1994.
      Seven Black Stones. Mysterious Press, 1995.

JEAN HAGER Seven Black Stones

      The Spirit Caller. Mysterious Press, 1997.

   Tess Darcy: [owner of the Iris House, a bed-and-breakfast in Victoria Springs, Missouri]

      Blooming Murder. Avon, pb, 1994.
      Dead and Buried. Avon, pb, 1995.
      Death on the Drunkard’s Path. Avon, pb, 1996.
      The Last Noel. Avon, pb, 1997.
      Sew Deadly. Avon, pb, 1998.
      Weigh Dead. Avon, pb, 1999.
      Bride and Doom. Avon, pb, 2000.

   Relative to the Tess Darcy books, there’s a long online interview with Jean Hager about the series at

   Any mystery novel with an amateur female detective, especially one who operates a bed-and-breakfast establishment, is going to be called a “cozy,” no matter that two people are murdered in it, and more or less on stage rather than off, one of them in fairly gruesome fashion. (While sometimes I wonder exactly how cozy “cozies” really are, I’m not going to argue, or least not here.)

JEAN HAGER Blooming Murder

   Probably because a B&B can’t have too many murders take place in it and stay in business, the primary setting of Sew Deadly has shifted by this time, the 5th book in the series, to the local seniors’ center, where Tess volunteers during the winter months, with no reservations in sight until March.

   The first victim comes as no surprise. It is a meddlesome little old lady who lives in near poverty and seems to delight in finding various ways of annoying her fellow seniors, even to the extent of a little minor blackmail, just for fun. (The second to die is more of a shocker, as I mentioned above, both as to who the victim is and the manner of death.)

   It does mean that there are plenty of good suspects, including the dead woman’s nephew and his supposed wife, who just happen to be visiting to make sure he’s remembered in her will, for whatever small amount it might be. And because Jean Hager as an author is quite good as describing what might have been totally stereotypical regulars to the senior center, the detective work is for the most part very well done — and in fact the emphasis is on the detective work, and not Tess’s love life, which seems to be moving well enough along so as not to cause anybody any concern.

   Perhaps you noticed that I used the phrase “for the most part.” The killer is fairly obvious to spot, but while there are lots of clues planted along the way, some of them leading to dead ends, of course, the clincher is not discovered until page 202 (of a 210 page book), meaning that Tess knows for sure only a fraction of a moment before the reader does.

   If the reader has been paying attention, that is. The end result is an “almost but not quite” fair play detective story, but in some cases, like this one, the “almost” is almost good enough.