"Jane Darrowfield and the Madwoman Next Door," by Barbara Ross
Retired executive, Jane Darrowfield, Professional Busybody, has a talent for helping neighbors with tricky problems and resolving disputes. In this second book of the series, a young attorney who thinks she might be losing her mind, seeks advice from Jane. Does she need help from a psychiatrist, or is there a more sinister explanation for the strange events happening in her home?
Megan is a young, attractive attorney who is up for a potential partnership in a legal firm. That should be a good thing, but strange voices in the night and lights that flash on and off with no warning have got her wondering if she is suffering from hallucinations. If her boss finds out that Megan has started to see a psychiatrist, her chances for that partnership will be jeopardized. She turns to her neighbor, Jane Darrowfield, who has a reputation for solving problems. Who knew it could be so serendipitous to have a busybody as a neighbor?
When Megan mysteriously disappears, Jane feels responsible and refuses to believe her new client simply wandered away and abandoned her home, and her cat. As the story develops, we learn about a host of suspects who could have potentially abducted Megan, with plenty of surprises and plot twists that were unexpected and fun to discover.
This is the second book in the series, and I have to say the development of the central characters has really progressed well. The chemistry between them is delightful. I rarely finish a novel in less than a month, but I devoured this gem in only 24 hours. I can’t remember the last time that happened. We’ve moved around a lot during our marriage, and I can’t even remember where I was living the last time that I finished a novel so quickly.
The book fits well with most definitions of a traditional cozy mystery. There is no profanity, gratuitous violence, or sex. The central protagonist is a female amateur sleuth, and the setting is a small, suburban neighborhood.
The author makes use of wit that occasionally lightens the mood, without diminishing the impact of passages that alternate between suspense and poignant moments with powerful emotional overtones. Jane Darrowfield and the Madwoman Next Door is a great example of why Barbara Ross won the Maine Literary Award for Crime Fiction, in 2019.
I finished the novel on a flight home from the Caribbean, while sitting next to my wife. She heard the occasional laugh as I read, saw the frequent smiles that came to my face, and witnessed her husband wiping a tear from his eye at the end. When I was finished, she asked if I had enjoyed the book. I told her the same thing I’m going to tell you. “You have to read this book!”