“As Directed” by Kathleen Valenti is the third in the “Maggie O’Malley Mystery” series. New readers may not be familiar with the intricate the intricate backstory, but Valenti recounts any needed details as the story progresses. The book opens with a death of Claudia Warren, and she took too long to die.
Over the years, Magnolia ”Maggie” O’Malley has pretended to be a lot of things, even a newspaper intern, but her current profession is working at Petrosian’s Pillbox while taking classes to earn her Doctor of Pharmacy degree . She has recurrent headaches caused by a trauma a year ago, but she is determined to move past that. One day while she is working, Colton Ellis, a longtime customer, collapses and dies from poisoning. Maggie begins CPR and shouts to call 911. Things deteriorate when two more of Petrosian’s customers collapse, three customers in three days. Has Maggie made a mistake? Is this a copycat of the 1982 Chicago “Tylenol murders?” Wherever Maggie goes, misfortune seems to follow, and there seemed to be no shortage of misfortune in Hollow Pine.
The story contains multiple twists and turns as Maggie uncovers power-hungry real estate deals, gambling, redevelopment, professional jealousy, general nastiness, and borderline criminal behavior. The body count grows, and possible suspects are both colleagues and strangers. Which suspect committed multiple murders? Maggie finds the whole situation is disconcerting.
Valenti fills readers in on Maggie’s previous adventures and relationships throughout the story. Ordinary activities are mixed with the definitely not ordinary. Readers know what Maggie is thinking and planning, and her everyday schedule brings realism to the story. Maggie loves her classic car, a 1962 Studebaker Lark. She is “over the moon” at the prospect of marrying Constantine. Readers sympathize as she makes wedding plans and moderates the feelings of relatives about the cake, the dress, the venue, and the guest list. Readers understand her stress, her guilt, and her joy. Oh, and she adopts a stray dog, heartwarming reality at its best.
Valenti creates characters who are not always who they seem to be. Tension, humor, and small town politics keep readers turning the pages, but without headache inducing trauma, except for that ketchup guy. I received a review copy of “As Directed” from Kathleen Valenti and Henery Press. It is exciting and enjoyable, even with the multiple murders. Maybe in the next book, Maggie will have a church wedding, or perhaps just elope.