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It’s been exactly five years since Susan Cox’s debut mystery, The Man on the Washing Machine, was published, but now, happily, Theo Bogart has returned in The Man in the Microwave Oven.

Theo, an English ex-pat, moved to San Francisco to escape the publicity surrounding two deaths.  Her upper-class family was the subject of intense tabloid coverage after her father killed her mother and then hanged himself while awaiting trial.  Theo fled to San Francisco, changed her hair color and her name, bought a run-down building that now houses her apartment and her shop Aromas, and is trying to keep a low profile and stay out of the news.  But somehow she keeps stumbling into murders.

Theo’s neighborhood, around Polk Street, is a mixture of two- and three-story apartment buildings, but now the threat of a fifteen-story condo coming to their community has started bitter disputes within the formerly friendly neighborhood association.  Katrina Dermody, one of the neighbors, is the lawyer representing Amos Noble, the man who wants to put the condo in Fabian Gardens, and Katrina has a scorched-earth policy to stop everyone opposing her.  She’s even been keeping files on her neighbors, Theo discovers, making notes on their vulnerabilities.  For blackmail purposes, Theo wonders?

Trying hard to live by her grandfather’s advice, “Courtesy costs nothing,” Theo sees Katrina’s car and decides to say hello.  She bends down at the driver’s side window and sees it’s covered with blood, and a closer look shows Katrina staring straight ahead, obviously dead.

There are many people with whom Katrina feuded, so there is no shortage of people who disliked her.  But enough to murder her, Theo wonders?

At the memorial service, Theo discovers a side to the attorney she had never known.  A distant cousin of Katrina’s who had been living with her tells the people attending the service that the deceased had been funding a small orphanage in her home town of Kiev for years.  “Katrina didn’t want her philanthropy to be widely known,” Gavin says, “but I feel she wouldn’t mind me telling you about it now.”  It’s almost enough to make Theo sorry for her dislike of the late lawyer…almost, but not quite.

Then a stranger comes into Aromas, a man with a thick Russian accent, who tells Theo that he’s an old friend of a man he thinks she knows.  He shows her a newspaper photo of her grandfather, but she is reluctant to tell the man of their relationship.  She promises to ask around but instead calls her grandfather directly, and she finds out that there are even more family secrets than she had suspected.

Theo Bogart is a delightful heroine, a woman trying to reinvent herself in a new country.  But she’s finding out that, like the story of her grandfather and her mother, once you pull on a thread in a story everything begins to unravel.  The novel’s plot and the many interesting and unusual characters make The Man in the Microwave Oven a terrific read.

You can read more about Susan Cox at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.


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