Deadly Distrust
by Mary Schaller

"People who commit murder aren't always predictable. You could be seen as a threat, and then you may become a victim."

Gina and Elly are friends and roommates living in San Francisco in this twist-filled thriller set in 1979. Both women are starting new lives as nursing students after leaving abusive marriages, though their similarities end there. Studious Elly focuses on her exams, while Gina dives into flirtations and dates, seeking the new love of her life. Gina's search ends tragically when she dies of poisoning on a clandestine romantic getaway. Elly works with Gina's brother Todd, a police detective, to determine which of Gina's lovers could be behind her untimely end. Could it be Gary, her possessive and jealous ex-husband? Perhaps it is Allen Pace, the dangerously charming doctor at the clinic where Gina worked, or Mark Jacobs, the professor who studies deadly mushrooms. Every answer they find leads to more questions.

While Elly and Todd search for clues to solve Gina's murder case, a parallel story evolves as Annette Pace struggles with her husband's infidelity. Mark Jacobs wants both her love and her money, and he vacillates between being a supportive friend to her and needing more than she will give. Both Mark and Annette have psychological problems that they hide from each other, and their downward spirals have devastating consequences for themselves as well as Elly and Todd. The characters' lives entwine in an unpredictable fashion that leads to a dramatic conclusion for all.

The lurid drama in this novel starts slowly as the author introduces many distinct characters, all of whom seem to have different trajectories. As the pace quickens, however, all of the characters' stories begin to fit together in unimaginable ways. Surprises abound in each chapter with the revelation of multiple shocking twists and turns of the plot. While these sudden developments may be jarring in the book's early pages, the stakes are raised exponentially with each reveal. The racy melodrama in each of the characters' lives delightfully recalls the genre of 1950s pulp fiction as the story uncovers cross-dressing professors, secret lesbian lovers, and covert drug deals. Many of these events are very visual in their descriptions, resulting in graphic scenes of violence or sexual assault.

Despite the excitement of the more provocative events in the story, the most engaging moments happen during police detective Todd's investigation into his sister's death. His and his fellow officers' careful examination of evidence and thorough discussions of their views of the case are as absorbing as an episode of Law and Order. Several of the plot's most surprising twists, though, emerge only through expositional dialogue after the fact when the police uncover new information and tell each other about it, contrasting with the more detailed action scenes in other parts of the book. Regardless, the combination of drama and investigation will still give crime fiction fans much to enjoy.

Schaller's writing also sings when depicting San Francisco's sites and locations as seen in 1979. Her descriptions nearly turn the city into a character unto itself. Whether naming streets during a frantic, speeding car ride or introducing subcultures during a shopping trip at a drag-queen-run consignment shop, the author gives readers a well-rounded view of her characters' world. Schaller weaves the seedy and the transcendent together to create this riveting, scandalous thriller.

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