A Helping Hands Mystery #2
By Annelise Ryan
Author’s website: anneliseryan.com
Brought to you by OBS Reviewer Jeanie
When social worker Hildy Schneider commits to an after-hours side job, she finds herself drawn into the darker side of small-town Sorenson, Wisconsin—and the twisted mind of an unnamed killer . . .
Strange things have been happening since Hildy started moonlighting with local police, but a desperate late-night call involving a former patient from Sorenson General Hospital tops the list. Although Danny Hildebrand has been tormented by hallucinations for years, he swears he’s being haunted for real by the victim of a grisly murder . . .
The rambling ghost story seems like another delusion. But after a body turns up in a neglected farmhouse crawling with secrets, Hildy and the magnetic Detective Bob Richmond rush to explain Danny’s knowledge of the incident. As the crime-solving partners unwittingly grow closer while examining a series of eerie leads, they realize that surviving past sunrise means shedding light on a criminal willing to do whatever it takes to stay in the shadows.
This cozy captured my attention from the first page and held it throughout. I really like Helping Hands, a program where a social worker who many in the community are familiar with riding with a police officer. Many people they are called to help can benefit from community referrals, and in this case, Hildy works also at the local hospital and knows available services. She brings Roscoe, her trained therapy dog. The golden retriever has proved to help calm people under stress of illness or other circumstances. The characters are engaging and well-defined and the mystery is quite challenging.
Danny is a young man with schizophrenia. He lives with his sister and her fiancé, and usually does very well when he takes his meds that are well balanced. Hildy has known him a couple years from his emergency room visits. It is Hildy’s first week riding with a police officer, and they are called to Danny’s sister Allie’s home. He is visibly upset, ranting about someone being mad and coming for him, something about a ghost of a man he saw killed and didn’t help save him. None of it makes sense, so Allie, Danny, Hildy, and the comforting Roscoe go to the hospital in Allie’s car with Devo, the cop Hildy is working with tonight, following close behind.
When they pass the cemetery, Danny is convinced he saw the ghost. Later, Allie said she was sure she saw a specter, also! She shares the details Danny told her about seeing a man killed and a pink and purple dinosaur seeing it all. To the best of Hildy’s knowledge, nobody has been found dead in the manner Danny told Allie about.
Later that night, Devo is sent to check on the welfare of a man living alone in the county whose out of state daughter had not been able to get hold of him on their regular weekly call. Hildy is stunned to see that the means of death appears to be the same as what Danny has described, right down to the dinosaur. As if that isn’t enough, when Hildy takes Roscoe for a walk, they see a light through the floor of the open barn. After hearing someone escape from there, investigation by the officers and sheriff reveal a huge cellar full of premium grade pot growing, but very deadly plants that can be used in bioterrorism.
It is hard to imagine Danny having anything to do with this farm, as he never mentioned it to his sister. Yet he described enough of the scene to put him on the radar of the detective, Bob Richmond. Bob and Hildy had gone to dinner recently, and each had hoped to see the other again – just not in these circumstances. Hildy is convinced Danny could not have done the deed and insists on helping Bob with the investigation when not working either of her jobs.
The characters are a great mix. I liked Hildy from the beginning. She has chosen a challenging line of work that she, as a former foster child, can do better than most. Hildy is described best, and each of the others as befitting their roles. I appreciate that Hildy and Bob, despite their ages, are relatively inexperienced in relationships. It makes their dates interesting, and I like the thought of middle—age folks being able to still feel embarrassed. Bob sounds like he is trying to open his life up in many ways, including with Hildy. Danny is well-portrayed; the focus is more on his strengths than just his periodic mental health flares except in terms of the investigation.
I very much enjoyed this complex mystery that kept me guessing throughout. There were enough clues and plot twists to keep this fast-paced novel interesting. This duo of Hildy and Roscoe, and possibly Bob Richmond, gives the good guys a real boost. The lawyer Allie had for her brother was a real piece of work, especially when seeing Roscoe in the room! In some ways, the man provided comic relief in a stressful situation. The bad guy really was diabolical in the extent of deception and planning that went into the crimes. The ending brought surprises even though I had a good idea who the mastermind was, and all loose ends were tied up. And the ghost that everyone saw? I’m not telling! I highly recommend this cozy mystery!
*OBS would like to thank the publisher for supplying a free copy of this title in exchange for an honest review*