Widow’s Might
Sandra Brannan
A Liv Bergen Mystery
Greenleaf Book Group Press 2012

Widow’s Might is the third instalment in Sandra Brannan’s Liv Bergen mystery series.  It begins with detailed chilling imagery that compels you to get reading.

Congressman’s daughter Liv Bergen seems to attract danger and tragedy.  Her future sister-in-law is murdered—in a previous book–with her brother Jens the accused killer.  She herself is attacked near the family quarry.  An employee is killed, and an unknown assailant makes an attempt on the life of 78 year-old Helma Hensen, a close friend of her sister Elizabeth.  Helsen is in a hospice dying of cancer, having just lost her husband Ernif to murder.

Ernif’s death and Helma’s attack seem tied to a dormant killer dubbed The Crooked Man and a series of elaborately staged unsolved murders that have occurred in the area during the last twelve years.

Enter Special Agent Streeter Pierce, one of Liv’s two FBI crushes, who solicits her help with the investigation and invites her to join the Bureau.

Complicated?  You bet!  There is much more and the plot definitely thickens. Sandra Brannan ties it all together well, but it takes a while.  So much happens, with mixed opinions from this reader.

The intricate plot of Widow’s Might’s contains elements of a good mystery, with the contradiction of sometimes being dark and disturbing, and elsewhere sprinkled with charming archaic sayings, like “I…fell ass over teakettle”.   At one point we experience a glimpse into the thought process of the likely killer, but that, unfortunately goes nowhere.

Clearly not CSI, Widow’s Might often does the thinking for you, ie listing multiple explanations for the “Crooked” moniker, and frequently rehashing and adding clues and details of previous murders.  Perhaps Sandra Brannan more accurately portrays the working of a case than does prime time TV, but one can’t help but notice that we’ve heard some information before.  However, that can be valuable at times, assisting readers re-evaluate information if they find details hard to follow.

An element of contention involves clues that are characterized as small, insignificant, and not unique, yet they hail from Britain, and have not been manufactured since 1971.  Thus their likelihood of repeatedly turning up in South Dakota is slim.  (Horatio would have been all over that one.)

The location, historical references, and clever significant ties to the Custer expedition may be drawing points for some readers. The novel gains in complexity and builds slowly.  It takes off with excitement during the last third to quarter of the book when it is hard to put down.  Getting there is the challenge.