Murder mystery in an old mansion plumbed by a new brand of sleuth

Chasing Shadows, by Karen Harper. Mira. 384 pages. Paperback $7.99.

The portions of thirty years that Karen Harper has spent in Naples allows her to provide a taste of this desirable Florida town, though the plot is developed primarily in and near St. Augustine. The first novel in Ms. Harper’s Southern Shores series, “Chasing Shadows” introduces a powerfully engaging protagonist, Claire Britten, the recently divorced mother of a young daughter. chasingshadowsfrontcover

Claire is trying to establish her Clear Path business as a forensic psychologist. Offering her services in a case tried in the Collier County Courthouse, she impresses the opposing lawyer so fully that he asks her to work for him on a case in St. Augustine. After struggling with this decision, Claire decides to leave young Lexi with Aunt Darcy, Claire’s sister, and assist the persistent and extremely handsome lawyer, Nick Markwood, with his case. Her interviews are designed to draw out information useful at trial, where she can be called upon to give expert testimony.

Claire has an intuitive knack, as well as the training, to understand people’s behavior and its foundations. She can draw people out and “read” them.

She is also a woman with health problems. She suffers from narcolepsy complicated by cataplexy. Her life can run smoothly if she remains disciplined, getting sufficient rest and following a regimen of carefully balanced and timed medications. Going off-routine is seriously disabling.

Once the groundwork of the novel is established in Naples, Nick’s murder case in St. Augustine takes over. The deceased, Francine Montgomery, was the owner of the gorgeous old mansion called Shadowlawn. Her mysterious death – was it an accidental overdose, murder, or suicide – leaves the future of Shadowlawn in doubt. Various people have a stake in the outcome, include Francine’s daughter Jasmine – a suspect who is Mark’s client.

Harper

Harper

Shadowlawn had fallen on hard times and was likely to be sold or perhaps given to the public in some manner. There was also some hope that private fundraising efforts could save it. What will happen to those whose livelihood and identity has been connected to the seemingly haunted place if it comes under new ownership or becomes a public entity?

Those potentially vulnerable people include Neil, the “inside man” and overall estate manager; Bronco, the “outside man” concerned with the grounds; and Dr. Win Jackson, who has plans to expand his museum and produce a film about Shadowlawn; and, of course Jasmine – the heiress. . . .

To read the full review, as it appears in the November 30, 2016 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the December 1 Naples, Bonita Springs, Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte, and Palm Beach / West Palm Beach editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Chasing Shadows

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