cover image Witness to Evil

Witness to Evil

Janet Dawson. Ballantine Books, $21.95 (298pp) ISBN 978-0-449-00042-7

In the seventh Jeri Howard mystery (after A Credible Threat), Dawson doesn't quite carry off her attempt to link a moving story of Jewish children hidden from the Nazis in WWII Paris with a present-day mystery involving skinheads in California. In Part I, the Northern California PI is hired to go to Paris and bring home 17-year-old Darcy Stefano, who has a history of running away from her wealthy, self-centered parents. Trailing Darcy around the Holocaust memorials and Jewish museums in Paris, Jeri discovers that the girl is on a pilgrimage to honor her beloved French grandmother, who, as a Jewish child in Paris during WWII, was hidden with a Catholic family to escape from the Nazis. The rest of her family died in the Holocaust. In Part II, a few months after their return to the States, Jeri is hired to look for Darcy again. Darcy has disappeared from her boarding school--where a maintenance man has been murdered. Jeri's methodical investigation of the school and of the murder victim turn up murmurings of skinheads, neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan. When she finally puts the pieces together, she and Darcy are both in serious danger. The Paris segment, a lovingly detailed travel guide with an unusual perspective, isn't adequately integrated into the mystery involving the California extremist groups. Jeri's painstaking reporting of every freeway exit, meal and cup of coffee she takes further slows the pace of a tale that misses the mystery mark. (Oct.)