Michelle Newby is contributing editor at Lone Star Literary Life, reviewer for Foreword Reviews, freelance writer, member of the National Book Critics Circle, and blogger at www.TexasBookLover.com. Her reviews appear or are forthcoming in Pleiades Magazine, Rain Taxi, World Literature Today, South85 Journal, The Review Review, Concho River Review, Monkeybicycle, Mosaic Literary Magazine, Atticus Review, and The Collagist.

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Catherine A. Winn

Beyond Suspicion: A Whispering Springs Mystery

The Poisoned Pencil

Paperback, 9781929345106 (also available as an ebook), 230 pgs., $10.95

May 5, 2015

High school sophomore Shelby Palmer has been looking forward to her first boy-girl party, one of her best friend’s sweet sixteen, for a month. She’s got the new dress, the shoes, the makeup — and her “super-cute-walking-electric-shock” crush is going to be there. But when she gets home from school her mother tells her that she and Roger, Shelby’s stepfather, are going out and Shelby will have to babysit her baby brother, Josh. Again.

Shelby takes Josh to the park, one of their favorite spots, trying to take her mind off of her troubles. Shelby is momentarily distracted by a commotion in the park and when she looks back for Josh, he has disappeared. The police don’t believe Shelby when she tells them about the white van she’s seen too many times in her neighborhood. The media doesn’t believe her either, and they set up camp in the front yard of her home. Her friends jump on the bandwagon and trash her all over social media. Since the police aren’t looking for the kidnappers, Shelby will just have to do it herself.

Beyond Suspicion: A Whispering Springs Mystery is Catherine A. Winn’s debut novel, a young adult thriller, the first in a planned series. Overall it’s a good first effort but uneven. Winn does a great job with the sometimes difficult dynamics of blended families and the fickleness of teenagers, but her caricatured portrayal of the police and their overwrought dialogue falls short. On the other hand, Winn has the “tabloid mentality” national media frenzy, “like someone dumped chum in the ocean for sharks,” complete with a Nancy Grace–type talking head, pegged perfectly. Winn’s characters are believable and sympathetic, if not overly complex, and she deftly handles Shelby’s character development, not an easy feat with teenagers. Several shady types muddy the waters, well placed to keep you guessing as to the identity of the culprit(s).

The plot is simple but with plenty of twists and the pacing is brisk, designed to hold the attention of its intended audience. The action accelerates into the final showdown and races to an exciting and satisfying conclusion. Beyond Suspicion shows promise for Winn. Teenagers will identify with Shelby and zip right through Beyond Suspicion, then wait impatiently for the next installment in the series.

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