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Book Author: S. C. Perkins

FATAL FAMILY TIES by S. C. Perkins: Book Review

With millions searching sites such as and 23andMe, Fatal Family Ties is a mystery that will resonate with many people. 

Lucy Lancaster is a Texas genealogist, formerly employed at Howland University and now head of her own three-woman firm.  She has mostly unpleasant memories of her sixteen-month tenure at the University, thanks to her less-than-friendly colleagues, Roxie, Patrice, and Camilla.

So Lucy is stunned when Camilla interrupts her at her favorite lunch place, Big Flaco’s Tacos, and insists that Lucy read an article in Chronology, a highly-respected magazine published by a nationally known museum.  Camilla says that the article’s information, detailing the life of her ancestor Charles Braithwaite, is false, and she wants Lucy to find the truth.

Charles Braithwaite was a Confederate soldier. and the article contends that he deserted his regiment, presented himself as a corporal after the war ended although he actually had been a private, and spent his remaining years burnishing his reputation and becoming rich from lecturing about his imaginary exploits.

Readers’ backlash to the piece is immediate and strong, with a petition being circulated to have the city’s park and elementary school, currently named after Braithwaite, renamed.  At the same time, the Braithwaite family is steadfast in the belief that their ancestor was, in fact, a corporal and the presentations he gave about his service in the war were accurate.

After his service in the Civil War (aka The Late Unpleasantness or the War Between the States–take your pick), Charles painted a triptych.  One-third was given to each of his children, and the painting has never been seen in its entirety since his death.  Now Camilla has one section, her Uncle Charles (every generation in the Braithwaite family had a son named Charles) has one section, and the third section is held by another relative.

When Camilla brings Lucy to see Charles’ section of the painting, Lucy is stunned at how dreadful it is.  When she makes a gallant attempt to say something positive, Charles smilingly gives her more information about it.  Recognizing the poor workmanship of the piece, he had nevertheless hung it in his office because of its “family history…and thus it is precious to us.”

He tells Lucy that some time earlier, a visiting child knocked into the panel and loosened a bit of canvas so that a small piece of another painting could be seen underneath.  Charles invites Lucy to look at the small section that was formerly invisible, and she is very impressed by its artistry.  For some reason the triptych had been painted over, and that’s part of the mystery that Lucy, Camilla, and Charles want to uncover.

This seemingly innocent request, as well as finding out the truth about the original Charles Braithwaite, leads Lucy to fraud, murder, and a very fractured and dysfunctional family.  Fatal Family Ties bursts with an amazing sense of the Lone Star State, and it is as well a crash course in genealogy and the good news/bad news it can bring to families determined to find the truth about their ancestors.

S. C. Perkins is a fifth-generation Texan with a strong interest in her own family’s background.  Her debut mystery novel, Murder Once Removed, was the winner of the 2017 Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery competition.  You can read more about her 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 OldiesPast Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.