I am a misogynist when it comes to the mystery novel. Aside from the gruesome twosome of Kathy Reichs and Patricia Cornwell, rare are women mystery writers who manage to keep me interested, let alone want to buy their next book. Karen E. Olson and her first novel Sacred Cows, winner of The Mysterious Press’ Sara Ann Freed Memorial Award in 2005, is a rare exception to that rule. Sacred Cows is a very interesting and original mystery. The heroine, Anne Seymour, crime reporter at the New Haven Herald, is fun to go along with and neither too butch or girlie-girl.

I like my detectives like I like my eggs: hard-boiled and slightly pickled. Anne Seymour is a hard-nosed crime reporter and she wakes up with a major hangover at the beginning of Sacred Cows when her boss calls her to cover the death of a Yale co-ed. This quickly escalates into something more complex when the crime reporter learns the co-ed was an escort, another co-ed is killed, and someone is embezzling money.

No self-respecting detective or crime reporter is without an in with the cops. In Sacred Cows by Karen E. Olson, Anne Seymour’s is that she is dating a detective on the New Haven police force. Rule number two is you have to have a dangerous sidekick. This role is in part played by Vinnie, a former classmate now private detective who, as is often, often mentioned looks a lot like Sinatra.

The title Sacred Cows is an allusion to an event taking place in New Haven while Anne Seymour is investigating the crimes. The city has commissioned artists to paint some cows that will be put on display to attract tourists. It is also an allusion to the fact some of the city’s who’s who, including the crime reporter’s mother, have invested heavily in the scam. This provides a bit of comic relief in this mystery novel.

Sacred Cows by Karen E. Olson is a first mystery novel. This is only mentioned because mystery fans sometimes like to pick up first editions of firsts in the hope the value will go up if the writer keeps it up. This one is a pretty good bet. Olson has an interesting, original, sometimes caustic character. She tells a good story and does so economically. Aside from the frequent Sinatra comparisons and a rather cardboard character serving as Seymour’s mother, there is nary a misstep in this mystery.

With a little luck, Karen E. Olson will continue writing mystery novels (her second, Secondhand Smoke, is out), they will be picked up for a made for TV movie series, and this first first edition will help my retirement fund a bit.

Sacred Cows
Karen E. Olson
The Mysterious Press 2005
Warner Books 2006

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