Tuesday, June 30, 2015

U of Wisconsin Press Brings Another Great Mystery, by James Devita, From Beautiful Wisconsin!

Wisconsin - Alfalfa and Corn Fields 
J. McClay/Killing/American Forum

The Killing of Deborah Ellison

Three and a half hours northwest of Chicago, deep in the hinterlands of Wisconsin, I drove past a sign that said Welcome to Winsome Bay, Home of the Wildcats. As I took the next left, a rural, angled lane, the inside of my car suddenly shadowed and cooled as an endless emerald wall appeared out my driver's-side window: Corn, corn was everywhere, thick leaved, rainforest green, eight to ten feet tall. Every square foot of earth in Winsome Bay that didn't have a house on it seemed to have corn growing on it. If not corn, then soybeans or hay: timothy grass, bluestem, red clover, alfalfa. I continued driving, passing field after field of green gridded farmland, the crops pushing right up to the backyards of homes and businesses. 
West of the Wisconsin River, just below Friendship, Winsome Bay doesn't have a bay at all but a medium-sized lake, one of over fifteen thousand left behind after the glaciers melted away  some ten thousand years ago. No one in the town seemed to know why the lake was called a bay when it wasn't one, and no one really seemed very interested in the question. The town had a population of 632 and boasted a high school, a public swimming pool, three churches, and four bars. A sign on the local liquor store said Wine, Cheese, and Bait.
Night crawlers were $2.50 a dozen.

Jillian saved her document, scrolled up to the top, and began editing the first few paragraphs of her new story. At five that morning, she had hobbled into her sweatpants, hustled down the stairs to the kitchen, poured a thermos of coffee--preperked on a timer--and headed out the back door, wide awake and ready to work...

A Winsome Murder

By James Devita

I was just a short way into the book when Jillian McClay appeared and begged permission to do the story on a death of a woman in Wisconsin. Almost immediately I had concluded she was the main character and, through her article writing, would solve the case!

Unfortunately, she was later murdered for writing the articles! She had stirred up a lot of attention of something that had happened recently, but trailed back in history to when it actually started... Needless to say, this novel kept me totally involved in the whodunit! And it was only near the end that I began to hone in on the serial killer. Cool, right?!

Melissa Becker was the first girl that
Deborah Ellison ever kissed. She'd
kissed girls before, of course, when
she was little, at sleepovers, lying under
blankets on living room floors or
sleeping in the same bed with a play-
mate, but that was always practice, as
they giggled it, practice to kiss the
boys. But for Deborah, it wasn't
practice. She enjoyed it. She craved
the tingly feeling she felt when a little
friend's hand accidentally brushed
her body while whispering sixth grade
secrets. There, nested into each other
so close that each could smell the other's
candied breath. Deborah felt an over-
whelming desire to be the other girl,
to be all of her, to dissolve within her...
But there was also a tender story of love, which starts right at the beginning, that grips readers' sympathy and leaves a nagging feeling that somehow this love story is part of the murder case now underway...

Melissa was Deborah's first love. The kind of love that marks you for life, the kind of love that can damage you. She'd felt this way about Melissa ever since middle school, but never dared to say a word...

It was young, new love when they first kissed... But it turned into tragedy when Melissa was diagnosed with terminal cancer... Deborah was never the same after that--but it was for more reasons than that her first and best friend had died. It was because Deborah was now "outed" and the family and community were not the least bit sympathetic. It didn't take long for Deborah to leave town as soon as she was old enough... Unfortunately, she got into the same type of trouble there  that many young girls get into... She had hooked up with another girl, but then that girl introduced her to the man that would make all the arrangements for his new stable addition...

Nobody knew when and why Deborah Ellison had returned to Winsome Bay.

Using the serial articles on the murder that Jillian had begun, readers begin to meet the people in Deborah's home town... But not many were willing to even talk to her... And the police was not much help. In fact, Deborah's father, Tom Ellison, a member of the police force, was grieving and had no desire for the type of publicity that Jillian was outlining!

And right about then, it started to get strange...

Jillian's boss became involved! He received an envelope containing the hand of what clearly was a woman... It was a padded envelope that was often used to send submissions for consideration--Not This Time!

Soon Detective Mangan, who is the character that claims dominance in readers' minds as he, as his partner says, "creeps" individuals out as he stops and stares...and accepts the literary words that comes into his mind... Mangan was involved, and stayed involved, traveling as things got more complicated... And it was the police who discovered the note that had been stuffed at the bottom of that envelope

And who has cut those pretty fingers off?
Thou hast no hands to wipe away thy tears.
What accursed hand hath made thee handless?

This simple overture was selected to help we who have not studied Shakespeare quite so effectively as the author and his character Mangan,  to allow us to see the potential connections to the cases in Wisconsin and Chicago...

And then it was discovered that the police in Wisconsin had kept it quiet that the hand had been removed from Ellison's body... Was these the words of the killer...or were they the words that sounded from Mangan's mind?

Now this one addition to the novel makes it a cut above the normal police procedural or serial killer hunt. Mangan has an avid interest in literature and, throughout the book, quotes from Shakespeare, Melville and other classical authors come into his head, most times bringing words that could be from multiple Shakespearean plays or even from a different author...But they come in response to what he's digesting from a crime scene, which results in some literary quote(s) that supports what the crime or emotions behind the crime might be. A truly intriguing concept that will expose readers to many of the plays of Shakespeare, albeit, the bloody parts...

Actually, the lines above are samples of Mangan's thinking...Here's what the note said...





Of course, everybody started trying to figure out what it was meant to really say. It was only by accident that the word Winsome was finally connected to the Wisconsin murder... This individual by the time he was finished was formally classified as a serial killer.

But the investigation, even when Mangan and his partner joined with officers in Wisconsin, was moving very slow... And every once in awhile, Mangan stops and stares at the floor...his mind picking through all of the literature he has studied all his life, trying to seize on a potential clue or pattern similar to what has happened in today's world...

...and I...with tears...do wash...the blood away...in my heart...vengeance...
in my heart...death in my hand...Vengeance is in my heart, death in my hand, Blood and revenge are hammering in my head....


Like Patricia Skalka with her wonderful Door County Mystery Series, this time the University of Wisconsin Press brings an exceptionally well-written mystery with literary additions that provocatively grips readers minds as Detective Mangan explores similar acts of violence from the greats of classical literature.

The challenge of correlating the bits and pieces of the literary excerpts brought an unexpected challenge to this reader's normal clue-search technique that forced a tantalizing look into the many plays from Shakespeare and Melville, which resulted in a added bit of learning normally not provided in a mystery novel. Of course, that could have also prevented me from actually identifying whodunit! LOL... But I didn't mind. I loved the literary police officer Mangan and hope to see him in future books... Highly recommended!


James DeVita, an author and actor, has published two award-winning novels for young readers as well as numerous plays. He is the recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship and a member of The Dramatists Guild and Actor's Equity Association. He lives in Wisconsin with his wife and two children.

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