Murder Redrum: A Palindrome Mystery
by Joan Del Monte

"You're telling me four banks were robbed yesterday and no police responded to the alarms at the banks?"

Set in the heyday of the 1920's, a time of dry laws, bootleggers, and exploding crime rates, author Joan Del Monte presents a well-crafted, engaging novel replete with historic details of the era, and a twisting plot line that incorporates inept criminals, a kidnapped dance band, good cops, bad cops, some savvy women, and ever the pesky, roving reporter. The story here centers around a motley group of four simultaneously bank heists. The mastermind behind the robberies, Frank Eccles, is a sharp, competitive, and complex man, with an expertise in stock manipulations. His real penchant is in using codes and secret messages, and in particular palindromes (words or phrases that read forwards or backwards) as a means of concealing his files.

While Del Monte's creative use of this literary device clearly reflects Eccles' keen intellect, it also serves to generate an audience interest in tracking these mysterious clues and connecting the information in order to decipher Eccles' ultimate intension. In appropriate contrast, the author deems the lead detective on the case, Mike Viola, dyslexic. On the job, Viola's acute visual memory seems a purposeful compensation for his learning disability. The author takes full advantage of this with detailed descriptions of characters and settings throughout the investigation. When Eccles winds up dead, from a military style precision shooting, Viola is assigned to the case. With the help of his mentor, Tom Lee, an ex-cop turned master Chinese chef, they find the connection between the robberies and murder.

Against this backdrop of Upper Prairie and Prairie City, Illinois, Del Monte invites us into a melting pot of ethnicities. This extends from the popularity of Lee's Asian restaurant, to key characters representing Greek and Native American traditions. Detective Viola's own Italian-American heritage comes to light over concerns of missed Sunday dinners, his father's involvement with unlawful wine delivery and consumption, and his mother's prayers for the perfect daughter-in-law. In addition to Eccles own partner femme-fatale, with tricks up her own sleeve, the author presents several other self-confident female characters, including a challenging love interest for Viola. Undoubtedly their inner strength seems reflective of new times and changing perspectives for women.

With a surprising wrap-up in the book's final pages and a closing reference to the Eccles character as a "collector of palindromes," readers are sure to come away with their own contemplative 'wow' in response to Del Monte's captivating and entertaining read.

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