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WATCH HER by Edwin Hill: Book Review

One might think that a Harvard University research librarian wouldn’t get involved in murders and other crimes.  But that’s because you haven’t met Hester Thursby.  Somehow crime always finds her.

Watch Her revolves around Prescott University, a for-profit art school in Boston.  It had humble beginnings a few decades ago, but through clever marketing and perhaps some other less savory means, it has become a major player in the city’s landscape.

Now the university is poised to open new classrooms and a state-of-the-art gallery, and it’s having a huge party to celebrate. Prescott is privately owned by the Matson family, with Tucker Matson the chairman of the school’s board and his daughter Vanessa its president.

The real work is done behind the scenes by Maxine Pawlinkowski, Prescott’s general manager who is in charge of everything from speech-writing to hiring contractors.  No one outside of the Matsons knows exactly what her position entails, but Maxine is fine with that; she has her own reasons for staying at her job.

Hester and her non-husband (that’s how she refers to him) Morgan Maguire are invited to the gala, and shortly after it begins Maxine’s cell phone rings with a text from Jennifer Matson, Tucker’s wife, about a problem at their home.  Maxine asks Angela White, a police detective who is another guest at the party, and Hester to go with her to the Matson mansion, and the three women leave and head for Pinebank.

Jennifer says she believes someone has broken into the house, although nothing appears to have been taken.  She doesn’t want this reported to the police and seems annoyed at Angela’s presence and a bit embarrassed as well.  The only thing out of place, Jennifer says, is the copy of George Eliot’s novel Adam Bede, which she found lying on a table after the alleged intruder left.

The Matsons have a strange family dynamic.  Jennifer is an alcoholic who rarely leaves the house, which explains why she wasn’t at the celebration.  Tucker is filled with self-importance, still believing he is running the school although he’s no longer its president.  And their son-in-law, Gavin Drew, is Prescott’s CFO and has a reputation that makes students wary of being alone with him.

Hester has made a name for herself as a researcher who is able to find missing persons, so it’s not a surprise when Maxine approaches her with an unusual request.  Maxine has been examining student records and finding that they are incomplete.  She had asked Gavin, who as CEO is in charge of this information, for all the records but has yet to receive it.  Her suspicions are aroused, and she decides to have Hester locate a number of current and former students, but Hester can find no traces for many of them.  Nothing on social media, no websites, no digital trail.  Something is definitely wrong.

Watch Her takes a long look into the secrets that occur between people — the Matsons, Hester and Morgan, Maxine and Tucker, Angela and her colleague Stan — that won’t stay buried.  Even people who profess to love each other have secrets that, when unearthed, have devastating consequences.

Edwin Hill has written a fascinating study into the behaviors of seemingly ordinary people, people you might know, who will stop at nothing to keep things from being revealed.  You can read more about him 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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