Saturday, July 18, 2009

Miss Zukas in Death's Shadow by Jo Dereske

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With an audit going on at Bellehaven's Public Library, it couldn't be a worse time for librarian Helma Zukas to be serving a sentence of fifty hours of community service. But Miss Zukas stubbornly refused to pay what she thought to be an unjust traffic fine and now she's doing time at the Promise Mission for Homeless Men--ladling soup and clearing tables for a motley group of ungrateful down-and-outers. When Helma discovers there's a rash of thefts going on at the mission, she's appalled. Add to that, the unannounced visit of a high school flame who intends to win her hand, and Helma's ready to run to the auditors for relief.

But none of that can compare to the shock when, during the first night of her service, a body is found just outside the mission's back door. Suddenly in the wake of a heartless homicide, Helma becomes one of the suspects, and her fifty hours of service are looming like a life sentance. Fortunately for the otherwise law-abiding librarian, her gaudy, bawdy good friend Ruth is close at hand to help her solve the case...before she ends up doing hard time in a much worse place than the mission house.

Knowing she did not violate the rules of the road, Helma Zukas refuses to pay the fine given to her for "running" a stop sign. So instead she will serve 50 hrs of community service at the Promise Mission for Homeless Men, serving meals to the homeless and helping organize the donations that the mission has received. Unfortunately this coincides with an audit at the library where she works, some petty thefts at the mission, the return of an old boyfriend - and oh yeah, a murder!

When a homeless man confesses to the murder, Helma does't buy it. Granted she saw him at the murder scene, but the facts just doesn't add up. And while Helma may have disliked the victim, it won't deter her from trying to figure out just what happened. Especially since someone is doing their best to make it appear as if Helma is the one who committed the murder.

In her quiet, yet firm manner, Helma goes about looking for answers. As always, her trusted friend Ruth is there to help, providing the reader with comic relief along the way. Helma manages to sort through and dismiss suspects in her own quick, yet efficient style. As the others in this series, this book was a brisk and entertaining read with Helma figuring out who the murderer was in the nick of time.

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