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Book review: A librarian as P.I. from an author to watch
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Book review: A librarian as P.I. from an author to watch

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"Watch Her," by Edwin Hill.

"Watch Her," by Edwin Hill. (Kensington/TNS)

"Watch Her" by Edwin Hill; Kensington (304 pages, $26)

———

For some people, committing fraud comes way too easy. Certainly, greed is a reason — money can make people lose their minds. Fraud also can be a way to hold power over another. Others are just predators. Without oversight, some people cannot resist larceny urges.

All those factors certainly explain the dysfunctional Matson family, who lord their money and social status over others, though they like to appear to be humble and generous. In his third excellent novel about Harvard librarian Hester Thursby, Edwin Hill delves deep to show just how vile the Matson family can be while seeming innocent.

In “Watch Her,” Hester is pulled into the Matson orbit when Maxine Pawlikowski hires the librarian to track down alumni of Boston’s Prescott University, a for-profit art school owned by the Matsons. As Prescott’s director of admissions, Maxine is concerned that records reflect dozens of students who can’t be located.

An expert research librarian, Hester has a sideline of finding missing people. Hester’s sleuthing leads her to the Matsons’ scandalous history, including a toddler’s death. The murder of a pregnant Prescott coed, a graffiti artist’s work and a college executive’s reputation for sexual harassment threaten the future of Prescott.

Hill sculpts complex characters whose motives are believable. The intensely private Hester tries to keep her past quiet but secrets have a way of breaking out. Surrounded by a group of realistic friends and acquaintances, Hester has cobbled together her own family on whom she knows she can count.

Hill’s affinity for showing the darkness that can thrive in hearts shines in his depiction of the selfish, chilling Matson family. “Watch Her” works well as a private detective mystery — with a librarian subbing for the P.I. — but also as a family thriller. “Mothers and daughters. It’s what this whole story had been about, from the start. Even Hester... Her own truth,” writes Hill.

Hill has proven to be a talent to watch. With just three novels, Hill’s series has garnered attention often reserved for more established authors. His 2018 debut “Little Comfort” was nominated for an Agatha Award for best first novel. His second novel “The Missing One” was nominated for the Agatha Award for best contemporary novel and The G.P. Putnam’s Sons’ Sue Grafton Memorial Award. The engrossing “Watch Her” is an education in thoughtful plotting that should bring Hill more honors.

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