cover image Murder Among Us

Murder Among Us

Jonnie Jacobs. Kensington Publishing Corporation, $20 (329pp) ISBN 978-1-57566-276-3

Kate Austen, in her third appearance (after Murder Among Friends, 1995), seems almost too good-hearted to be an effective sleuth. But, as is quickly clear in this busy and intriguing tale, the well-mannered, compassionate high-school art teacher also possesses a steely determination. A serial killer is terrorizing Kate's tranquil San Francisco suburb. First, a young coed is found murdered in a city park, the killer leaving a distinctively grisly trademark. Then Julie, a talented and troubled student of Kate's, is killed in the same bizarre manner. Kate is in a unique position to aid the overwhelmed police, since she can tap into an array of high-school students who, although wary, still offer some insightful comments into Julie's tragic past (she is an orphan whose prominent mother died in a boating accident). Suspects abound. A secret, older lover? Her guardian, who seems to be dipping into her trust fund? Kate works smoothly with her significant other, police lieutenant Michael Stone, but it's her own dogged perseverance, fueled by a sense of guilt (she feels she failed Julie in some way), that compels her to investigate Julie's past--with ramifications that are particularly hazardous for herself. This fine mystery is buoyed by rich characterizations, a gripping plot and some scene-stealing performances by Anna, Kate's unpredictable and articulate six-year-old. (Apr.)