Samuel is a relatively young adult whose mother, like so many of us today, feels he should have gainful employment -- it was her idea that he open his agency, Questions Answered, housed in a modest strip mall in New Jersey. His assistant, Ms. Washburn, seems well cut out for her role as translator at the start of this fifth "case": She helps Samuel get the gist of such expressions as "What are you doing for lunch" -- which, contrary to what a logical mind might expect, is not usually a request for a description of a process. And if it weren't for Ms. Washburn's opinion on the matter, Samuel might have turned down this particular question from Virginia, who wants to be his new client: "Mr. Hoenig, is my husband having an affair with his dead girlfriend?"
To a literal mind -- say, one like Samuel's -- the immediate obvious answer is one word: "No." But of course, there's a reason why Virginia has brought him this question, and the case is surprisingly complex.
The author(s) have nonfictional experience with parenting a person diagnosed as having Asperger's syndrome -- a term for a kind of very high functioning version of the brain variant described by autism spectrum disorder. (It's commonly said by many that a high percentage of the geniuses figuring out today's technology have this form of brain function.) Copperman/Cohen plays the syndrome for chuckles around Samuel's efforts to comprehend and act on the highly irrational words and needs of the people around him, and anyone who has experienced a flood of dinosaur names and facts from a compulsively learning four-year-old will identify a lot of the time! The author's experience justifies writing from this point of view -- but I wasn't always comfortable with it. Still, the book makes excellent reading, with the flavor of an up-to-date Sherlock Holmes crossed with the adolescent agony of wondering when someone actually wants to be kissed (Ms. Washburn, for instance) and what is meant by that!
Eventually Samuel figures out that he can best handle this question by appointing Ms. Washburn to be the lead investigator, since she sees some reason to pursue the answer. But soon the two find a need to pool their skills (not just for kissing opportunities), and discover there's more danger than expected in an ordinary question case.
An entertaining puzzle mystery with lively twists and a lot of food for thought, THE QUESTION OF THE DEAD MISTRESS will please many a Sherlock Holmes or Father Brown fan -- and, of course, anyone who began grade school by reading Encyclopedia Brown. Actually -- I really enjoyed it myself. I'd read more. Fortunately, since this is the fifth in the series, that option is available! (Although the publisher has been Ink, which is closing its doors, so expect a change of publisher.) And, my best measure of a good book: I've got at least three people I'd like to give this to.
PS: Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.