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Alan Cook, Mystery and Walking Writer
“I like the characters…as well as the Hotline for the setting. This is a great mystery.”
Tony Schmidt joins the Central Hotline in sunny Bonita Beach, California to improve his listening skills. Shahla Lawton joins the Hotline to fulfill a volunteering requirement for her high school. Neither one expects to get mixed up in a murder investigation.
But that is before Shahla’s best friend, Joy, also a listener, is murdered. Tony and Shahla discover that they are able to uncover information that the police can’t. Information about the “inappropriate” callers who haunt the Hotline, and information about other people with a connection to the Hotline who may have hidden motives to kill the beautiful Joy. Questions arise. Will the murderer strike the Hotline again? And if the murderer does strike again, will Shahla be the next target?
Although he has been out of college for years, Tony still lives with his college roommate, Josh, and his lifestyle might be described as extended fraternity. Faced with the responsibility of taking calls from people who range from disabled to obsessive to abused to suicidal, and also of helping to solve a murder, Tony finds he has to mature fast. Since this involves admitting that girls like Shahla can be smart and dedicated, and not just underage sex objects, as Josh sees them, the relationship between Tony and Josh may suffer.
Tony and Shahla have harrowing adventures in venues ranging from Southern California to Las Vegas, as they try to distinguish the annoying-but-harmless callers from the dangerous, and figure out whether the murderer might just be somebody not connected with the Hotline.
She walked north along her side of the street until she was opposite the Thompsons’ house. She was about to cross the street when she saw a car coming from the south. She waited to let it pass, but it slowed down and blinked its lights. Considerate California drivers sometimes stopped for pedestrians, even in the middle of a block. Shahla waved at the driver as the car stopped, even though the car’s headlights prevented her from seeing who was inside. She had reached the middle of the street when the car suddenly lurched forward, directly at her. Confused, she jumped back toward the curb, trying to get out of its way. It screeched to a halt beside her and the driver’s door flew open, narrowly missing her. A man jumped out of the car and grabbed her before she could react. Shahla screamed as the strong arms attempted to pull her toward the car. But the car was still rolling slowly. He let go of her with one hand and grabbed the open door frame of the car with his other hand, apparently to try to stop it. He was holding her by the right wrist. She tried to jam the fingers of her left hand into his throat. It was a glancing blow, at best, but she felt his grip loosen on her wrist. She jerked her whole body as hard as she could. Her wrist pulled free, and she ran north along Sandview Street. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the man chasing the car, which was rolling toward the far curb. She was running away from her house, but in the other direction the street ended in a cul-de-sac. He must have been waiting for her there. At the first intersection, she turned in the downhill direction, toward the beach. She had to get out of his line of sight. She went one block downhill and stopped behind a lamppost, panting. This wasn’t a good hiding place, but she didn’t hear any sounds of pursuit. A car went by, but not that of the kidnapper. What should she do? She couldn’t go back to her house as long as the man was in the neighborhood. She decided to go to Jane’s house. Jane’s father should be there now, and he would protect her. Their house was several more blocks north and two blocks uphill from here. Shahla crossed the hilly street and ran along the street parallel to her own. She would go another block north and then cut uphill. She slowed down to a jog, wanting to conserve her energy. It was a good thing she ran cross-country. Training in the hills had greatly improved her wind. At the next intersection, Shahla looked uphill. A car was moving farther up, but it was harmless. She started up the hill at a fast walk. Before she had gone halfway up the block, a car went through the intersection above, on Sandview Street. It was his car. She stopped, frozen. Then she heard the sound of a car backing up. That thawed her. She turned and ran back downhill.
Dawn Dowdle, Mystery Lovers Corner
Not long after Tony Schmidt joins the Central Hotline in Bonita Beach, California, Joy is found murdered. Both are listeners—people who man the Hotline and talk to the callers. Tony pairs up with Shahla Lawton, another listener and Joy’s best friend.
They begin working many shifts together. Since Tony and Shahla work at the Hotline, they find they can often get information the police are unable to obtain. But instead of turning everything over to the police, they begin to follow up on much of the information themselves. Partly because the police don’t seem too receptive to the information and partly because of privacy rules.
They begin looking into some of the inappropriate callers and others with a connection to the Hotline to determine who might have had a motive to kill Joy. There are many strange people and they have to sift through information to determine if the person is just having trouble or if they might have a motive to have killed Joy.
Tony and Shahla put themselves in many very sticky situations and find themselves in peril more than once as they work to uncover the identity of the killer.
This is a great story. It moves along quickly and keeps you guessing as to who committed this murder and why. There are plenty of red herrings and things happen regularly that made me change my mind continuously about who I thought did it.
I really enjoyed getting to know Tony and Shahla. Even though Shahla is only a teenager, she is such an integral part of this story. Their relationship is terrific. I hope there will be more books with these two main characters.
This story is well crafted and the California setting terrific. I highly recommend this book.
Cynthia Chow, Hawaii Public Libraries
In a departure from his senior citizen Lillian Morgan mysteries Alan Cook introduces Tony Schmidt, an aging frat boy living in Bonita Beach, California. Volunteering at a suicide hotline to develop his communication skills and aid his job as a marketing manager for Bodyalternatives.net, Tony discovers that dealing with the emotional backlash of suicidal callers is the least of his problems. Tony is uncomfortably attracted to the seventeen year-old volunteer Shahla, and when her friend and hotline listener is murdered Shahla pulls him into an investigation despite his inclination to leave things to the police. As the two track down their weirder callers and fellow volunteers all the way to Vegas Tony must also cope with his irritatingly immature roommate and confront his growing suspicion as to his college friend's involvement with the murder.
Cook has created a very engaging hero in Tony, who realizes that he has to grow up fast as he encounters the pain of the callers and sees just how much that he himself has to lose. Shahla is at times wiser than her years while still flashing glimpses of being a teenage girl, and her impulsiveness nicely contrasts with Tony's reserve. This is a very entertaining mystery that builds up speed and takes the reader along to its surprising conclusion.
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