The Mother Shadow
Edgar Award Finalist: After a suicide, two oddball female sleuths investigate a coin collection that is anything but small change.
Maggie Hill’s life has become temporary. Her marriage was temporary, her jobs are temporary, and if work doesn’t pick up, her time in California might be temporary, too. Her latest employer is Ellis Kenilworth, an aging coin expert with a first-rate collection and a tenth-rate family. One morning, he has Maggie type up a codicil to his will, changing the document so that his million-dollar rare-coin collection goes not to his kin, but to a woman named Claire Conrad. By the end of the day, the codicil has vanished, and Kenilworth has killed himself with a shotgun. When the hyena-like family starts to circle Maggie, she reaches out to Conrad. The heiress is an eccentric private detective who wears only black and white—and whose sense of honesty is as clear-cut as her wardrobe. Together, they fight to protect an old man’s final wish, battling against a family so greedy that they would steal the coins right out of the dead man’s hand.
This gem of a mystery introduces the improbable sleuthing duo of Maggie Hill and Claire Conrad, reminiscent of Nero Wolfe/Archie Goodwin. Thanks to Howe's stylish writing in the hard-boiled tradition, it is both gripping and entertaining, with wonderfully vivid characters and a deft plot abounding with twists and turns. Acting as secretary to wealthy Ellis Kenilworth, 35-year-old, divorced ex-writer Maggie Hill witnesses the drafting of a codicil to Ellis's will bequeathing his rare coin collection to someone outside the family, Claire Conrad. Ellis asks Maggie to keep the sole copy of the codicil while he lunches; he then kills himself, leaving Maggie, with the codicil in her purse, to discover the body and a suicide note. Later, when both note and codicil disappear, Maggie visits Claire Conrad and learns that the elegant eccentric, who dresses alternately in black or white and sports a walking stick, is a renowned detective. Together, the women, aided by Claire's debonair butler/bodyguard, Boulton, penetrate the miasma enveloping the Kenilworth clan, where they encounter duplicity, heinous secrets and murder. In a class by themselves, Maggie and Claire promise a smashing series. Literary Guild alternate.