By Hannah Morrissey; reviewed by Jeannette Hartman
For a change, Morgan Mori’s life seems to be taking a turn for the better.
True, she’s moved back into her parents’ house in Black Harbor.
And her Chicago business catering to the dark and depraved fantasies of private members has burned to the ground.
Only a red balloon tied to a small coffin-shaped box containing a key remains. A note on the back of an envelope reveals a message she knows is intended for her: “My Ruin: All roads lead back to home.”
Only her abusive aunt Bern used the word “Ruin” to refer to Morgan. Her last image of Bern was of her “lying face up with her skull shattered on the concrete, mouth open to catch snowflakes” after she’d slipped on the ice getting the mail.
But now, with newly purchased photography equipment, Morgan is starting over. Her first assignment is to photograph the wealthy Reynolds family holiday party. The family is welcoming and down-to-earth. The chemistry she feels with Bennett Reynolds, who arranged to hire her, is almost magical.
But then, as so often happens in Morgan’s life, everything takes a wrong turn. After a drink with Bennett at a bar away from family eyes, she stops at the Fast Mart to buy gas and a candy bar. Patrol Officer Brix Garrison comes in for a cup of coffee. Another man rushes in and fires at the cop, who falls to the ground in front of Morgan. Staring at her, he mumbles with his dying breath, “I’ve found you.”
In the horror of the moment, little registers on Morgan, but she notices the gunman’s shoes have red treads and there’s a faint odor of spray paint in the air.
In this multi-layered mystery, author Hannah Morrissey takes readers back to the world of Black Harbor that she created in HELLO, TRANSCRIBER.
Black Harbor itself broods over the characters and action in this book.
“A crumbling, crescent-shaped city, Black Harbor was the punching bag of its sister, Lake Michigan, who butted right up against it. The winds she hurled carried freezing precipitation careening over the bluffs and slamming into brick walls of houses and vacant businesses. There no lengths you could go to to get away from it, and every year, the lake swallowed up more the city, packing cops, civilians and criminals tighter together.”
As one cop says, “This is Black Harbor. You know what we call it when strange shit happens around here? Tuesday.”
Some of the characters of the earlier book appear here. Nik Kole, a headstrong detective in HELLO, TRANSCRIBER, has matured and gotten more conscious of consequences. Now, he’s a sergeant and supervises Ryan Hudson, a newly promoted investigator who used to be Garrison’s patrol partner.
To keep Hudson out of the investigation of Garrison’s murder (which is being handled by a neighboring police department), Kole assigns Hudson to investigate a new development in a 20-year-old cold case: the disappearance of Clive Reynolds, Bennett’s father and patriarch of the richest family in town.
A 1978 Porsche 930 Turbo — a “widow-maker” — like the one Clive drove and reported stolen the summer of his disappearance, has been found in the lake. There’s a skeleton in workman’s clothes in the passenger seat. Black Harbor’s coldest case is heating up.
Morrissey excels at weaving together mysteries that seem unrelated but unravel in startling and interconnected ways.
At its heart, THE WIDOWMKER is about families: adopted ones that give you a second chance; birth families that betray you; work families; and families you create for yourself.
While the stories Morrissey sets in Black Harbor are noir, they often end with her characters facing a better, although not always sunny, future.
HELLO, TRANSCRIBER and THE WIDOWMAKER share a setting and characters, but it is not necessary to have read the first book before reading the second — nor does the second book contain any spoilers for those who go back and read the first after reading the second.
A third book, WHEN I’M DEAD, is planned for 2023.
The Author: Hannah Morrissey
Hannah Morrissey was inspired to write her first novel, HELLO, TRANSCRIBER, by her own work as a police department transcriber. Her work has carved out its own sub-genre of “Midwestern Noir.”
She studied English and creative writing at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In addition to being a police transcriber, she worked as a book seller and copywriter.
She lives near Milwaukee with her husband, who leads a police detective bureau, and three pugs.