MEG O’BRIEN – The Daphne Decisions. Jessica James #1. Bantam, paperback original; 1st printing, March 1990.

   Jessica James blames her mother for her name. Sometimes things like that happen. She’s a hard nosed reporter for a small but influential newspaper in the Rochester NY area in the spunky Kinsey Millhone vein – not a PI but the closest thing to it without quite being one. The closest she has to having a client is an elderly woman who had something important to tell her, but she put her off one day too late. Mary Burghof is dead.

   The opening scene is rather unique. Jess wakes up in a hospital covered with bandages, and a local influential judge is under the belief that she is his missing daughter-in-law, Daphne, who had disappeared. The story Jess had been working on has to do with learning more about a mysterious real estate company who she suspects has been forcing elderly people off their property and buying their land cheap. Mary Burghof is/was one of those people.

   I suggested that Jessica James is a heroine in the Kinsey Millhone fashion, but in truth she has a darker edge than Kinsey had, which includes a drinking problem. The case begins as detective story, but the surprise twist about 60 percent of the way through completely reveals who her adversary is, turning the tale into a thriller more than a mystery. Only until the end, that is, when she discovers that it was a detective puzzle all along.

   Not the most skillfully told one, but I’m always glad to read a book with a detective puzzle ending, even if I wasn’t expecting one.
      The Jessica James series —

1. The Daphne Decisions (1990)
2. Salmon in the Soup (1990)
3. Hare Today, Gone Tomorrow (1991)
4. Eagles Die Too (1992)
5. A Bright Flamingo Shroud (1996)