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Through all this drama, Jill struggles to learn her job. She must keep sixteen women supplied with groceries and household items, appease Board members, and calm frightened clients. Hardest of all is finding a way to get through to angry teens who refuse to accept her authority. Mar Roberts, who'd promised to stand by and help her replacement learn the job, is suffering a meltdown because of problems of her own, and proves to be of little use.
Things get worse instead of better as the people who were supposed to assist Jill turn instead into suspects. As neighborhood conflicts surface and people interested in the teenagers show their true colors, she begins to feel she can't trust anyone, even her old college chum, Mar Roberts, who is supposed to serve as her guide and mentor. or Mar's new paramour, the TV reporter Jeremy Breen.
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Night of the Humpbacked Moon
Newly graduated and lacking experience in social work, Jill Szekely is hired as Acting Director of a crisis house for women. A murder occurs on her first day of work.
In 1949, with WW II over and gone, the EsCa crisis house for stranded Navy wives is seeking a new mission. When Jill Szekely takes over as Acting Director, temporarily replacing pregnant Mar Roberts, the house is experimenting with accepting teenagers rescued from the streets. With no experience, Jill feels trepidation about handling these young women, some of whom have an attitude. To add to her problems, the donor and patron is murdered on Jill's first day of work, and the neighbors are up in arms over the propensity of the crisis house to lure crime to the area.
Since the police appear to be looking in the wrong direction, Jill must play sleuth as well as Director, attempting to rescue a wrongly accused young woman, newest of her clients. But efforts to clear one teenager only seem to place the blame on other teenagers, until Jill is caught in a tangled web where several people, including adult relatives of the young women and even a volunteer staff member appear to be a part of the murder plot.
"My mind plunged into a fever of wondering and blaming. I widened my horizons to include Rex Prothero, who'd taken to acting so peculiar lately...and to Burn Peterson who'd hung around the neighborhood so much the neighbors complained. I kept coming back to the teenagers. Jealous Laurie, ruthless toward the bromeliads? Mystery girl Dolores, who'd wangled a job among valuable antiques? Was there some kind of plot behind all this?
Midwest Book Review
These days there is such a plethora of murder mysteries available on TV that sometimes it hardly seems worthwhile for authors to write books in the genre. Fortunately, there are still a few things books can do which TV cannot. Books can explore character in depth while taking us through the protagonists' experiences, letting us live alternate lives in a way that TV viewing can never capture.
This is particularly true of the work of author Lois Santalo, who writes character-driven novels. Her sleuth, Jill Szekely, is a real and believable person, a newly graduated social worker and the wife of a wannabe concert pianist struggling to support his family in a post-war era when women are not warmly welcomed in the workplace. Jill has much to cope with apart from the fact that she is new to her job, trying hard to translate the book learning of her student days into action appropriate to her working days.
The Szekelys (pronounced SAYkelly) arrive in San Diego for Jill's first professional role as Acting Director of the EsCa (the Estelle Carruthers Home for Women), an institution established during World War II for Navy Wives stranded when their husbands shipped out for lengthy overseas deployment. After the war the place had lost its reason for being when the Navy established its own aid programs for families. Now, with the war decade ending, it seeks a new mission to women of the community. Will it focus on battered wives, runaway teenagers, or women newly on their own after a divorce? Currently, it houses some women in each category, while it flounders in an attempt to find a direction.
Then the patron and donor of the house is murdered. While still struggling to learn her job and handle rebellious young people, Jill must cope with police eyeing everyone associated with the EsCa - residents, staff, and neighbors - with suspicion. She must take on the job of sleuth together with that of Director.
Even though Jill has some experience at solving mysteries, the task is a daunting one. There are sixteen women living in the house, including eight teenagers, two of whom are angry and rebellious, with a third one threatening to join their ranks. There is a new arrival who doesn't seem to be the person she claims to be. There are staff members who show signs of mental deterioration. And there are neighbors angry over the whole idea of having a women's shelter in their neighborhood. Jill sees indications of plots among residents and staff. It's hard to know where to begin looking for a murderer, and even harder to sort through the tangled web that unfolds as she goes.
With a controversial person as victim, seen by some as the rescuer of women and by others as a gold digger, friend of Hollywood actors, Queen of the Del Mar racetrack, the deceased is as much a mystery woman as are her possible killers. No ordinary murder story, this book is a study of complex people from various backgrounds thrown together in an unusual setting that provides opportunities for making new lives for themselves, not always legitimately.
Lois Santalo is a fine writer who has been praised for her gifted use of the English language and her story-telling talents. She knows her material intimately after having worked as night director at a women's shelter. The book is highly recommended.
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