Death in a Bygone Hue
Susan Van Kirk
Level Best Books
978-1-68512-336-9         $16.95 Paper/$5.99 ebook

The second book in the Art Center Mysteries, Death in a Bygone Hue, continues the story of artist Jill Madison’s return to and new life in her hometown, where she has established a position as executive director of a new art center and cemented a reputation for problem-solving by the mystery she solved in Death in a Pale Hue.

All has not been completely peaceful since then, because ‘Ivan the Terrible,’ the president of the art center’s board, is not just an ongoing thorn in her side, but a professional nemesis whose ongoing (and often petty) concerns constantly thwart her efficiency and attempt to direct her every move.

Think the worst of micromanagers—that would be Ivan. Now pair him with a terrible event that leaves behind a legacy of mystery when her good friend and mentor Judge Ron Spivey is killed, bringing his estranged children into her life with a mandate to circumvent her inheritance from his will. These developments add a fine tension to the plot that evolves on multiple levels as the story plays out.

As in the previous Jill Madison account, Susan Van Kirk creates masterful interactions between all kinds of disparate individuals and special interests, flavoring the murder mystery with evolving community quandaries that keep Jill on her toes and often at odds with the very people she’s supposed to serve in her new job.

“Who knew I lived in such a colorful town?”

Jill is only beginning to scratch the surface of its underlying influences, and readers follow along with her discoveries, which are presented in a thoroughly engrossing and revealing manner that touches upon these emotional and special interest connections to involve them in the heartbeat of a small town’s secrets.

Van Kirk’s ability to bring Jill and her conundrums to life comes from both her astute observational tone and the revealing events that embrace the feel of a cozy mystery and the revelations of interpersonal strife:

“I took several sips of wine, sat back on the sofa, and thumbed through the rest of the newspaper. Summer sports were over for my niece and nephew, Tom’s kids, so I glanced through the sports pages in a few seconds. Then I returned to the front section. Hmm. What might Editor Gushman have found to write about? I pulled open the editorial page and gasped at the headline: “Cover-Up is Alive and Well in Murder Investigation.” It reminded me I despised the woman. I folded the page back and read her editorial. Dread came over me.”

From accusations of cover-ups and special interests to vividly described events that often impart a wry undercurrent of humor, Van Kirk creates many compelling twists and turns cemented by a sense of person, place, and ironic inspection:

“I hit my brakes, skidded on the wet pavement, and went careening onto the shoulder and down into a ditch, coming to an abrupt stop. Before I got my wits about me, my airbag deployed, and I felt like I’d been socked in the face by a sumo wrestler. Fortunately, my car called 9-1-1. Gotta love twenty-first century technology.”

Death in a Bygone Hue is a breath of fresh air in the mystery series because its focus on evolving and shifting interpersonal relationships powers a whodunit that embraces a small town’s prejudices, perceptions, and atmosphere.

Libraries and readers seeking a stand-alone mystery that both supports the prior book and crafts new intrigue as Jill settles into her role and navigates the dangerous politics of her hometown will find Death in a Bygone Hue a delight.

D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review and Editor of Donovan’s Literary Services