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THE ODDS by Kathleen George: Book Review

Odds are, you’ll really enjoy The Odds.  Oh, that was bad, wasn’t it?  But truly, Kathleen George’s Edgar-nominated mystery is excellent.

I haven’t read any of her other books and chose The Odds because of its nomination.  It’s the third in a series of police procedurals that take place in Pittsburgh’s North Side, an area totally unfamiliar to me as I’ve never been to the Steel City.  It seems like a gritty place, with plenty to keep the city’s police busy.

Colleen Greer is the heroine, a police detective in the Homicide Bureau.  She’s got an unrequited crush, if one can use that word to describe the feelings of an adult, on her captain, a married man and father of two who is beginning a treatment of chemo for cancer.  This has upset the balance of power in the department and Colleen and fellow detective John Potocki are taken from Homicide and added to the Narcotics roster to help with a big drug bust, much against Colleen’s will.

At the same time, four children in the neighborhood, the oldest being fourteen, are left to their own devices after their stepmother leaves them virtually penniless to find an old flame in New York.  The children’s mother abandoned them several years ago and later died, and their late father made a hasty, unwise marriage so his children would have a mother.  But this stepmother is less mature than any of her stepchildren, and after the father’s death in an auto accident she decides the responsibility is too much for her.  The children, fearful of being sent to foster care and thus separated, decide not to tell the authorities they’re on their own and do their best to keep themselves a family.  And their best is outstanding.  But can they beat the odds?

The children and the police intersect when the only boy, twelve-year-old Joel, goes into an abandoned house and finds two men–one badly wounded and one dead.  When fourteen-year-old Meg goes back to the house with her brother, she recognizes the wounded man as the one in the corner pizza place who gave her a free pizza the day before. Given these kids’ sense of fairness and goodness, they decide to help him, even if that means not telling the cops about the dead man.

Although I felt that the children’s abilities and resourcefulness were a bit too much, the author does make all of them, especially Meg, believable.  Perhaps because the alternative to success is a failure that would break up the family, the children rise to incredible heights to keep their family unit intact.  All gifted in school, they prove their resourcefulness by car-washing, babysitting, clerking in a market, anything to keep bodies and souls together.  And that resourcefulness helps them with Nick, the wounded man.

There’s a lot of tension in this novel, and a lot of tenderness too.  Any reader must be on the children’s side as they work hard to keep teachers and neighbors from knowing that they’re living without adult supervision.  Dad and mom are always “working” when people ask for a parent-teacher conference, and it’s sad and probably true that the adults in this world never follow up.  But one only has to read the papers to find that children’s welfare has slipped through the cracks of bureaucracy too many times.  So perhaps the Philips children are better off on their own.  Kathleen George has certainly succeeded in bringing both the children and the police to life and in making the reader care about them all.

You can read more about Kathleen George at her web site.

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