Needled to Death
A Helping Hands Mystery #1
By Annelise Ryan
Author’s Website: facebook.com/AuthorAnneliseRyan
Brought to you by OBS Reviewer Daniele
As a colleague of deputy coroner Mattie Winston, social worker Clothilde “Hildy” Schneider is no stranger to unsolved murders at Sorenson General Hospital. Except this time, it’s up to her to crack the case . . .
Motivated by her own difficult past, Hildy has an unparalleled commitment to supporting troubled clients through grief and addiction in Sorenson, Wisconsin. But when a distraught group therapy member reveals disturbing details about her late son’s potential murder, Hildy goes from dedicated mental health professional to in-over-her-head amateur sleuth . . .
Alongside her loyal therapy Golden Retriever, Hildy stumbles through incriminating clues–and an unlikely partnership with Detective Bob Richmond, the irresistibly headstrong cop who shares her passion for helping others. With signs of foul play surfacing all over town, can Hildy and Detective Richmond pinpoint the deadly traits of a sharp-witted killer before another seat gets filled at grief therapy? (Goodreads)
Needled to Death is the first book in the Helping Hands Mystery series by Annelise Ryan and a spinoff of the author’s Mattie Winston series. Not having read any Mattie Winston books, I was unsure whether that would deter my enjoyment of this book, but I am pleased that Needled to Death stands on its own. The series shows good potential.
Based on the cover art of the book, featuring an adorable Golden Retriever that readers learn is comfort/therapy animal Roscoe, I fully expected this to be a traditional cozy mystery. While it does possess some elements, like the amateur sleuth protagonist and pet, it does not feel very cozy. It is somewhat gritty and reads more like a police procedural. Disappointingly, Roscoe is barely featured (I do like pet themed cozy mysteries). Though the mystery is engaging, most of the book is really about the main character Hildy, her backstory, and quirks. And, perhaps the most discouraging aspect of the book is the setup of a love triangle between Hildy, Detective Bob Richmond, and evidence technician Jonas.
As I mentioned, Hildy is quirky. Her mother’s unsolved murder weighs heavily on her, and she spent her childhood from age seven forward in the foster care system. She has OCD tendencies and is somewhat of a kleptomaniac; she is definitely flawed. She is also admirably tenacious, tough, and has good instincts. She does not strike me as a good people person, but she must be “off page” since she is a competent and well liked hospital social worker and grief support group facilitator. I guess I just fail to see what not one, but two, men find so instantly appealing about her. The other characters, including Bob, Jonas, and her eleven year-old neighbor P.J. are all well drawn and well developed . I can appreciate that P.J. is unconventional and in many ways older than her years (perhaps she is on the autism spectrum), but Jonas’s daughter Sophia, to whom we are also introduced, also acts older than her age, and I am not sure how realistic that is.
The mystery surrounding college student Toby Cochran’s supposed suicide/overdose is well executed. It is easy to feel for Toby’s mother Sharon, and her grief and desperation to find out the truth is a great motivator for Hildy. Even though I think Hildy really does care about the Cochrans, at times she comes across as being more into solving the puzzle than the people. I look forward to seeing how she handles her new role with the police going forward. It is fairly easy to pick out the bad guys in the story, but I did not have it all figured out before the book’s climax. There are plenty of clues though, and everything is tied up nicely to provide a satisfactory ending.
I do not yet love Hildy and her friends, but I am willing to give the next book in the series a try when it is released. I recommend Needled to Death to author Ryan’s fans and cozy readers looking for something that stretches the definition of the genre.