by Jane Haddam
I have recently become addicted to the mystery novels of Jane Haddam. I read a few of them years ago — her first Gregor Demarkian mystery, Not a Creature Was Stirring, was published in 1990 — but for some reason I don’t think I ever fully appreciated her until I read her newest one, Living Witness — the 24th featuring ex–FBI agent Demarkian — at which point I went back and avidly read all the earlier ones that I had skipped. Haddam’s books aren’t for thriller readers looking for adrenaline–charged page–turners; they’re truly character–driven, British–style cerebral mysteries, deliciously slow–paced and intricately plotted. Living Witness is centered on the controversy over the biology curriculum in a small, very conservative town in Pennsylvania. Ninety-one–year–old Ann–Victoria Hadley, newly elected member of the school board, has initiated a lawsuit that would forbid the teaching of intelligent design (synonymous with creationism in her mind), thus requiring the teaching of evolution in the local schools. When Ann–Victoria is found beaten nearly to death, and shortly thereafter two fellow plaintiffs to the lawsuit are found murdered, the local police chief, no fan of Darwin’s theory himself, and thus a possible suspect in both the beating and the killings, calls on Gregor to take over the investigation. One of the things I especially like about Haddam as an author is the way she treats her characters. All of them — both major and minor, and on both sides of the controversy — are fully developed, as well as being treated with respect. It’s easy to imagine them having real lives both before and after we meet them in the pages of this book (except for the ones killed off, of course). Although events in Gregor’s personal life change and develop over the course of the two dozen books, I don’t think it’s necessary to read them in order. Two others I’d recommend wholeheartedly are The Headmaster’s Wife and Cheating at Solitaire.