Review: Picketsville Sheriff Ike Schwartz investigates two deaths, one clearly a murder, the other possibly a tragic accident, at an antebellum mansion in Stranger Room, the fourth mystery in this series by Frederick Ramsay.
The murder is a curious case. The dead man, a visitor to the area, was found locked inside a stranger room, historically a room for passing travelers that was part of the main house but featured a separate entrance. There was no window nor was they any other means of entry. That he had been murdered is not in doubt; how it happened is the question at hand. The owner of the estate, Jonathan Lydell, claimed to not know the man. But what is even more unusual is that in 1864, another murder had taken place in the very same room under similar circumstances; that case was never solved. Ike's investigation gets more complicated when Lydell's daughter dies after falling down a flight of stairs. Was it an accident? Or could the two cases somehow be connected?
Stranger Room is much more than a locked room mystery. In many ways, it's an overview of a couple of weeks in the life of a small town sheriff. His relationship with the president of a local woman's college, his management of the police force, dealing with simmering moral issues and race relations in the town, and possible drug trafficking. That none of these disparate subplots interfere with the primary plot involving the murder investigation is quite remarkable. In fact, in many ways, it helps put everything into perspective.
As Ike ponders the case, he keeps coming back to the why. "The case is full of whys. Never mind the how the murder was done … it's the whys. Someone shot Grotz who then went to the trouble to make it look like a locked room mystery. Martha Marie, for no reason at all, launches herself down the stairs." As Ike works out the why he also comes up with the how. And for everything else that happens, this is basically a locked room murder mystery. The good ones promise an ingenious solution and Stranger Room delivers.
Acknowledgment: Poisoned Pen Press provided an ARC of Stranger Room for this review.
Review Copyright © 2008 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved
Selected reviews of other mysteries by this author …
Poisoned Pen Press (Hardcover), August 2007
ISBN-13: 9781590583692; ISBN-10: 1590583698
Poisoned Pen Press (Hardcover), June 2009
ISBN-13: 9781590586358; ISBN-10: 1590586352
Location(s) referenced in Stranger Room: Virginia
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Stranger Room by Frederick Ramsay — An Ike Schwartz Mystery
Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press
Publication Date: August 2008
List Price: $24.95