Deadly Advice
by Roberta Isleib

Berkley Prime Crime: The Berkley Publishing Group, 2007. ISBN 978-0-425-21474-9.
Reviewed by Susan Ideus
Posted on 03/20/2008

Fiction: Mystery

Author Roberta Isleib is a psychologist as is her heroine Rebecca Butterman in the mystery novel Deadly Advice. Dr. Butterman is also an advice columnist. This is the first in the Advice Column mystery series. The storyline has Rebecca in a quandary over her neighbor Madeline's suicide. As a psychologist, Rebecca feels guilty (even though she wasn't well acquainted with Madeline) because she didn't see the suicide coming. When Madeline's seeming frail mother tells Rebecca she doesn't believe her daughter committed suicide, Rebecca finds herself drawn into an investigation.

Everywhere she looks, Rebecca finds contradictory evidence. Her neighbors don't agree on who had been seen coming and going from Madeline's condo. The police declare the death a suicide and tell her not to be involved with a closed case. Yet Rebecca learns that they are still actively investigating the case. Madeline's brothers try to talk Rebecca out of searching for more clues. Family secrets cloud the issues. Rebecca finds a secret blog that shows another, darker side of Madeline and reveals her involvement in questionable singles' activities. It seems she loved to kiss and tell.

Add all this to an assignment from her editors to look into the singles' dating scene, and Rebecca finds herself in some interesting and somewhat dangerous places. Just getting over a divorce, Rebecca knows that this is the last thing she wants to do, but she can use the assignment as a guise to further her investigation of Madeline's life and death. The ensuing events involve both comedy and peril, and situations where Rebecca finds she doesn't know whose motives to trust.

At first, I found the story slow-moving, but I continued to read because I wanted to know how what came next. I concluded that the story wasn't slow but rather intricately crafted—a mystery that remained a mystery until the end. The plot had subtle twists and turns that hold one's interest.

Isleib portrays her main character as a skilled and compassionate professional who is, like all of us, human and flawed, dealing with the baggage of a recent divorce and a not-so-great childhood, and actually in therapy herself. Rebecca is a believable character, not a perfect cardboard caricature nor a bumbling incompetent. According to Isleib, this was a conscious aim: "...I have the chance to dream up psychologist characters who can help solve mysteries without stumbling too hard over their own personal issues, crossing ethical boundaries, or imploding with self-importance." When asked how her own profession influenced her writing, Isleib said "Believe it or not, the work of the detective in a mystery has quite a bit in common with long-term psychotherapy. You start with a problem, then follow the threads, looking for clues, and gradually fill in the big picture." (from author's website)

What is a natural progression for Isleib translates into a quite enjoyable read for mystery lovers.

Roberta Isleib is a clinical psychologist who lives in Connecticut with her family. She began writing mysteries involving a golfer so she could justify the time she spent on the golf course. Her newest series portrays a psychologist/advice columnist. Roberta is the president of National Sisters in Crime and the past president of the New England chapter. Find out more at her website.

Check out our interview with the author of Deadly Advice.

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