When I’m Dead: A Black Harbor Novel

By Hannah Morrissey; reviewed by Jeannette Hartman

Hannah Morrissey always delivers suspenseful, twisty, high-stakes mysteries.

Her atmospheric stories are set in Black Harbor, a decaying Wisconsin town lashed by the angry waters of Lake Michigan.

“If the world itself is a dangerous place, Black Harbor is its core, a stagnant cesspool where bad people come in and never leave . . . a hardscrabble city that’s eroding more and more by the minute and where a bullet with your name on it might be right around the corner.”

Morrissey takes a special interest in families, whether it’s Hazel Greenlee’s souring marriage in HELLO, TRANSCRIBER or the wealthy and corrupt Reynolds family in THE WIDOWMAKER.

In this book, homicide detective Axel Winthorp and his wife medical examiner Rowan are regularly called out to crime scenes leaving their daughter Chloe too much on her own.

The Winthorps are watching her star in her high school’s performance of “Beetlejuice,” when they get yet another call out to a murder.

Back stage, Rowan has to tell Chloe they must leave. Mascara-blackened tears stream down Chloe’s cheeks as Rowan hands her the bouquet of black roses they had planned to give her at the end of the show.

“You’ll love me more when I’m dead,” Chloe accuses her.

The words hit even deeper when Rowan discovers the newest victim is Madison Caldwell, Chloe’s best friend since kindergarten.

Rowan was supposed to text her next-door neighbor Dr. Marne Lucas to ask her to take Chloe home after the play. But the text snags and is never delivered. Chloe heads home alone.

Her bouquet of black roses is found on the path, but Chloe has vanished.

Over the months since Chloe got the role of the goth girl Lydia Deetz, Axel and Rowan watched with concern as she has become withdrawn and sullen. She dyes her hair black and replaces her earrings with safety pins.

She tells her parents that it’s method acting.

What they haven’t noticed is that Madison has stopped being a friend. She and Sari Simons, new to the school, tease Chloe about her relationship with drama teacher, Mark Cutler, 51. Crude drawings labeled “Chloe the Hoe-y” or “Chloe Gets Extra Credit” on a photo of a a female figure sitting on a male figure’s lap have been pushed into Chloe’s locker.

Questioned by Axel, Sari believes Chloe killed Madison and that she (Sari) may be next. Within days, Sari is found dead in a faux haunted house open to the public.

Could Chloe have killed Madison and Sari? Could she have had help from Madison’s boyfriend Reeves Singh? Singh admits to police that he and Madison argued often. Rowan thinks Chloe is too small to have overpowered Madison. But with Reeves’ help?

Then, there’s Libby Lucas, Marne’s daughter next door. Libby is a misfit with an invasive stare that makes people uneasy. She and Chloe have never been friendly even though their bedroom windows are separated only by a spreading tree.

Could Chloe be a killer? Is she dead? Did Cutler, the drama teacher, have an unsavory effect on her? Was her change in appearance and attitude really method acting or was something else going on that Rowan and Axel had been too busy to observe?

This is a tight and suspenseful mystery with an almost unexpected ending. Axel, Rowan and Chloe Winthorp are much more middle class and settled in the community than the characters of Morrissey’s first two books. One of the tensions of earlier books is marginal lives of some of the main characters. Here, the Winthorps seem to have the ability to leave Black Harbor except for emotional and psychological ties and barriers.

This book is less satisfying than earlier ones, but still a good read.

The Author: Hannah Morrissey

WHEN I’M DEAD is the third book in Hannah Morrissey‘s Black Harbor series, which also includes HELLO, TRANSCRIBER and THE WIDOWMAKER.

Her books, featuring the bone-chilling winters of Wisconsin and the Lake Michigan-pounded fictional community of Black Harbor, have generated a sub-genre of Midwestern Noir.

She worked as a bookseller and a copywriter before taking a job transcribing reports for the local police department. Each began with the words, “Hello, Transcriber,” and each told a dark story.

Hannah majored in English with an emphasis on creative writing at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. She grew up in northern Wisconsin and now lives near Milwaukee with her husband and three pugs.




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