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The J. Alfred Prufrock Murders    by Corinne Holt Sawyer order for
J. Alfred Prufrock Murders
by Corinne Holt Sawyer
Order:  USA  Can
Fawcett, 1989 (1988)
Hardcover, Paperback
* * *   Reviewed by Theresa Ichino

When a resident of Camden-sur-Mer, a luxurious retirement community in California, is found dead, it should be no surprise. After all, 'Sweetie' Gilfillan was elderly, her eyesight was failing, and she probably slipped on the treacherous beach stairway. However, closer examination reveals that she was murdered - the unusual multiple stab wounds indicate frenzied emotion. Just what had provoked such passion in her assailant? And why kill vague, unexciting Sweetie?

To Angela Benbow (a more likely candidate for murder) and her friends, the matter is both inexplicable and unsettling. The police believe that instead of some crazed stranger from off the street, the murderer is connected to Camden-sur-Mer. Angela and her friend Caledonia Wingate decide to help the police, with the reluctant participation of pals Nan Church and Stella Austin. Unsurprisingly, Lt. Martinez and his young assistant Charles 'Shorty' Swanson are less than grateful, especially when the elderly sleuths break into the crime scene. However, the ladies find key evidence overlooked by the police. As Angela and Caledonia both assert, they know the people and their community, and are sensitive to the undercurrents in their little world.

Bright, lively, stubborn, the four septuagenarians follow an elusive trail. Sweetie turns out to be far from the harmless innocent she seemed. Her love for snooping out secrets to hold over her victims and her delight in their misery explain why she was killed. But which of her victims took that drastic step? A second death adds to the mystery: did Paulette Piper fall or was she pushed?

The J. Alfred Prufrock Murders (the title refers to a poem by T. S. Eliot) is a delightful read. The author's development of character is masterful. It is fascinating to see the changes in Angela, who undergoes a voyage of discovery from manipulative mischief-maker to a wiser, more compassionate woman, as she uncovers the sad truths behind Sweetie's victims.

All the main characters are drawn with charm, and the secondary characters are equally vivid. Sawyer avoids stereotypes and paints with a tolerant brush even as she observes with a keen eye the foibles of human nature. She also shows the rich background of experience and personal history attached to her elderly characters. The plot is resolved cleverly, with an unexpected twist at the very end. In short, this is a writer worth following.

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