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Summerkill    by Maryann Weber order for
by Maryann Weber
Order:  USA  Can
iPublish, 2001 (2001)
Paperback, e-Book
* *   Reviewed by Theresa Ichino

Val Wyckoff has more than enough to occupy her time and considerable energy. She has taken on responsibility for two young nephews, as her sister is struggling with cancer and its debilitating treatment. She also invests long hours to establish her fledgling landscape design business while working for the prestigious Garden Center. Aside from her worry about her sister's health, Val feels modest satisfaction with her situation, having weathered a traumatic episode with an abusive stepfather and a mother who disowned her over the scandal. (Val defended herself with a knife.) In short, after years of effort, Val seems to have achieved stability in her life and is in a position to offer help to her sister and nephews.

Much as she loves her work as a landscape designer, Val finds her association with the Garden Center more trouble than it is worth. The owners are capricious and demanding; of late, they have made questionable decisions that Val thinks will erode their excellent reputation. Worse still, a financial hatchet man has been brought in to improve the Garden Center's economic bottom line. Ryan Jessup's methods have made him thoroughly unpopular with many people, especially since he seems to be less than ethical. Val has confronted him more than once over his habit of substituting inferior materials in her projects, forcing him to honor their contract.

Outspoken, stubborn, and fiercely independent, Val is the star suspect when Jessup is found murdered - on her property and with her long-handled pruner planted firmly in his chest. Despite her anger at being set up, Val reminds herself that she has more important obligations and resolves to stay out of the fray. However, the animosity of colleagues at the Garden Center, plus escalating events as the killer continues to target her, draw Val back into the murder investigation. She finds a valuable ally in the local sheriff, Baxter Dye, who refuses to bow to political pressure and influence-peddling. In fact, she becomes involved with him on a personal level. With the loyal members of Dye's department, they stand against a formidable array of enemies, one at least a murderer.

Weber has crafted an admirably logical mystery. The situation determines not only the motive and the victim, but also the protagonist's involvement. There is meticulous detail in the setting, including the geography of the ambitious golf club project that is at the heart of the murder. Her protagonist is very likeable, a feisty survivor who refuses to whine or to retreat, despite all the challenges that life throws her. Weber has a knack for bringing characters to life. Sympathetic ones like Val, her sister, Baxter Dye, Val's friend Mariah, even amiable Roxie (Val's dog) are engaging; the unsympathetic ones like influential Clete Donelly and his family and in-laws are truly detestable.

I did find that a cumbersome amount of information - many characters and plot elements - was presented in a short space of time. I finally made a scorecard to keep the players straight, which made it easier to follow. Overall, Summerkill is a solid, entertaining read - I regretted turning the last page.

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