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The Fourth Time is Murder: A Posadas County Murder    by Steven F. Havill order for
Fourth Time is Murder
by Steven F. Havill
Order:  USA  Can
Minotaur, 2008 (2008)
Hardcover, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Tim Davis

Consider yourself fortunate if you are among Steven F. Havill's many fans and have been waiting for his latest top-notch mystery because it has finally arrived in bookstores. Set in the American southwest - specifically in Posadas County, New Mexico - The Fourth Time is Murder is the highly recommended sixth police procedural mystery featuring Undersheriff Estelle Reyes-Guzman (and it follows nine previous Sheriff Bill Gastner mysteries).

In fact, being fortunate or unfortunate is at the thematic heart of The Fourth Time is Murder. When the action in this entertaining novel begins, an unfortunate driver has apparently lost control of his pickup truck (after hitting a deer?) and has crashed into a ravine on a mountain highway that traverses the Regál Pass in the San Christóbal Mountains. Estelle and several deputies hurry to the scene of the apparent accident only to discover that the dead driver may have been the victim of foul play. So, what appears to be a murder investigation is soon underway.

Then, while following the cold trail left by the dead pickup truck driver, Estelle stumbles upon a curious set of circumstances through which several people in an isolated community near the New Mexico-Mexico border have been quite fortunate, with each of them recently having won handsome sweepstakes prizes. Something about the multiple winners and something about their isolated border location raises more than a few red flags for Estelle.

Elsewhere, the dichotomy between being fortunate and unfortunate continues as a high school girl winds up in the hospital (and is fortunate to have Estelle's physician husband as someone who could help her), a woodcutter on the other side of New Mexico runs away from the scene of an unfortunate accident and returns to Posadas County with only a phone number and a compassionate priest to guide him, a deputy sheriff unfortunately gets a bit carried away when he breaks up a group of rowdy drunks and will be fortunate if he can keep his job (especially when Sheriff Bob Torrez and the father of one of the drunks is finished with the deputy), and Estelle (uncertain whether she is fortunate or unfortunate) is about to be the center-of-attention in a national magazine's feature article.

The Fourth Time is Murder is among those few superb mysteries that come along far too infrequently. Overflowing with vivid characterizations (especially the tough but charming protagonist, Undersheriff Estelle Reyes-Guzman), notable for its carefully crafted plot, and further strengthened by the poise and clarity of the writer's considerable narrative skills, Steven F. Havill's latest Posadas County mystery is an absolute, not-to-be-missed winner.

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