For this first week of Mystery Month, The Author Chronicles is featuring mystery writer Merry Jones. Merry has written everything from light humor to serious non-fiction, but the genre she prefers is mystery. Her Zoe Hayes mystery series, set in Center City, Philadelphia, includes The Nanny Murders, The River Killings, The Deadly Neighbors, and The Borrowed and Blue Murders.
Summer Session is the first of a new mystery series featuring Iraqi war veteran Harper Jennings, who is coping with physical scars and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as she studies archeology at Cornell University, where she works as a teaching assistant. Together with her husband, geology professor Hank Jennings, she’s renovating an old Victorian-style house.
The first chapter starts off with a bang when Harper’s husband, who is repairing the roof with his friend Trent Manning, falls off the roof. While he survives the fall, his injuries leave him with brain damage, including aphasia, a condition that interferes with his speech. Hoping for a cure, Harper takes Hank to Cayuga Neurological Center, where he slowly progresses.
Hank’s accident has caused a return of Harper’s flashbacks, but she’s a survivor. She continues her life, teaches her classes, spends time with Hank in the hospital, and fights back the flashbacks — until one hot day in class when one of her students jumps out the fourth-floor classroom window.
From then on, Harper’s life becomes an unpredictable roller coaster ride. She finds experimental drugs, stolen from the Neurological Center, in her dead student’s backpack; she is attacked by an assailant she can’t defeat; her home is ransacked. More bodies turn up — murder victims with one thing in common: they all connect to Harper. As she struggles with debilitating flashbacks and misunderstandings with Hank, fights to protect her students and herself, and agonizes over the conflicting feelings aroused by the interest and support offered by Ron Kendall, Hank’s doctor, Harper’s life becomes more and more complicated. Estranged from friends, uncertain who can be trusted, Harper is entangled in a web of perils — suicide, theft, betrayal, murder — wondering which of her acquaintances will be next … and who is behind it all.
Merry Jones is a masterful writer. Mystery is not a genre I usually read, but I thoroughly enjoyed Summer Session. The first page snags the reader’s attention. The novel maintains a lively pace, and the twists and turns throughout the book keep the reader’s suspicions switching from one character to another. While the culprits were among those I suspected, I was by no means certain before the truth was revealed. This was a book that kept me guessing, and I couldn’t put it down.
I demand more than a good story in a genre book, however; I want well-developed characters who are dealing with the difficulties of life as they experience the plot events in the story. Summer Session has a great and varied cast of minor characters, and the main characters are full of complexity. Harper is a strong protagonist dealing as well as she can with difficult issues which compel empathy — but I admit, I really fell in love with Hank as he struggles to overcome his disabilities.
I won’t reveal any more, but I can’t wait to read the next book in the series — Behind the Walls — which is scheduled to come out in January!
From LibraryJournal.com: “With a heroine as resilient and brave as Lori Armstrong’s Mercy Gunderson, pacing as intense as Meg Gardiner’s, and academic/medical intrigue worthy of Robin Cook, Jones (author of the Zoe Hayes mysteries) has a winner here. You won’t be able to put it down.”