Ashes of Despair
by Mary Schaller

"They have resolved to not to let you have the same power over them."

In this follow-up novel, Elly again finds herself in a deadly mystery in San Francisco. When she inexplicably inherits her grandfather’s fortune, Elly is unprepared for the tremendous responsibility and a corrupt board’s reluctance towards her. Everything spirals out of control as a board member, Arnold Smith, puts Elly’s life in jeopardy and that of her son, David, after sleeping with the fifteen-year-old runaway. David contracts HIV and requires extensive medical care, putting Elly’s life in further turmoil as she deals with her own kidnapping and attempted murder. While Elly tends to her son’s sickness and grapples with her alcoholic ex-husband’s denial, she assists her police detective fiancé, Todd, in the investigation and search for a hired hitman—JR. As people close to Elly die, she helps uncover conspiracies and murders and is forced to do everything she can to keep her family and herself safe.

Part murder mystery, part drama, Schaller’s novel has an unusual premise set amid the height of the AIDS crisis. Through her narrative, she touches on the social stigmas of the gay community during a fearful period and the fractured egos of those greedy for wealth. At times, the dialogue is a bit formal with the exception of a few colorful characters, and the plot is somewhat convoluted. Elly seems too vulnerable as our protagonist but thankfully strengthens by the novel’s end. Schaller’s narrative shines most with the close, developing mother-son relationship between Elly and David, while the villainous Arnold and JR emerge as the more fascinating characters of the story. Overall, it is a good read for fans of police procedurals and mysteries.

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