Keenan Powell // Hemlock Needle

Something was wrong. Maeve could feel it. She could see it in the secretary’s stolen glance as she bowed her head and turned away. She could tell by the way Arthur refused to look at her, pouring over the papers in his hand instead.

Title: Hemlock Needle
Author:  Keenan Powell
Publisher: Level Best Books, January 22, 2019
Format/Source: PDF, Publisher (I received an ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review)
ISBN:  9781947915091    Series: Maeve Malloy

Attorney Maeve Malloy has just learned she is facing disbarment when an old friend shows up and pleads with Maeve to search for her missing daughter, Esther. Needing to fill the time until her hearing with the Bar, Maeve agrees and takes the request as a pro bono case. But Esther has been keeping secrets, and, when her beaten body is discovered in a snow berm, Maeve continues investigating. The closer Maeve gets, the more lies she uncovers; if she doesn’t find the truth fast, Maeve will end up too dead to be disbarred.

One of the things I enjoy most in Hemlock Needle is the relationship between Maeve and her investigator, Tom. Theirs is a connection strengthened by years of friendship, trust, and, refreshingly, not romance (although, the possibility of this changing in the future is deftly hinted at between the story’s lines). 

Additionally, Powell’s writing provides a strong sense of place for her setting of Anchorage, Alaska, with references to Yup’ik culture and imagery such as the “sun cresting the snow-covered Chugach mountains” and “grey blocks of ice” shifting “across Cook Inlet.” Her characters are solidly built, from the stoic Cora to the jaded Big Red. And the mystery itself is evenly paced and engaging; the more I learned about the victim, Esther, the more I related to her on a personal level.

In so many mysteries, the victim’s death is merely a prop designed to set the plot in motion and keep it moving. Not a bad thing, of course. I’ve enjoyed many mysteries where the victim is either inconsequential to the mystery (the sleuth just needs a case to solve for the plot) or so hated I’m okay with not knowing his or her life details. If a book has a victim I can feel for, though, the story’s tone is changed and the mystery is deepened. Hemlock Needle, for me, was one of these mysteries.