Death by Dragonfly

by Jane Tesh
Poisoned Pen Press, December 2018, $26.95

This is the sixth novel featuring psychic private eye David Randall, a somewhat free spirit who lives in a boarding house full of other free spirits, a couple of them psychic like David himself. What I call the character matrix—the array of characters surrounding the central character—is a rich and dense one in this novel, at times almost too dense for a reader joining this series six books in. Not only is David surrounded at home by a vast collection of characters—most notably the deeply psychic Cam and his sweet girlfriend, Kary—he’s also surrounded through the mystery he’s investigating by many more characters. I wasn’t always successful at keeping everyone straight.

The mystery part of the book involves some stolen art deco objects: a vase, a poster, some spoons, and most notably, a Lalique hood ornament in the shape of a dragonfly. Sometimes mysteries can make you acquisitional; when I read Deborah Crombie’s Water Like a Stone (2007), I became obsessed with the laceware china she describes. In this novel, I became preoccupied with the Lalique hood ornament, which had a disc inside that spun in the wind, causing the ornament to change color as the car drove. I can understand why the owner of these stolen objects was obsessed with tracking them down.

David’s hunt takes him on a tour of the art community in his small North Carolina town, where the gallery owners seem especially cutthroat and the author has some fun describing the various feuds and resentments boiling away under the surface.

Meanwhile, Cam, who often helps with his investigations, gets a particularly strong response from the dragonfly, which sends him more or less into a psychic tailspin. Cam tends to find his gift more of a burden, and really struggles as the story progresses. David is further assisted by his daughter Lindsey, who was killed in a car accident in the first book but still manages to communicate with him and provide some helpful clues from the other side. I can’t say this wasn’t a rich assortment of characters and situations. I just thought the book needed a bit of a clearer hand at the helm. The story was sometimes submerged under the detail, but the resolution was a clever one and the author displays a sharp wit.

Robin Agnew
Teri Duerr
December 2018
Poisoned Pen Press