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Sleight of Hand: A Jo Banks Mystery    by Robin Hathaway order for
Sleight of Hand
by Robin Hathaway
Order:  USA  Can
Minotaur, 2008 (2008)
* *   Reviewed by Tim Davis

In the recommended Sleight of Hand, the third in the delightful Jo Banks mystery series by the same author who has entertained readers with five Dr. Fenimore mysteries, the former Manhattan pediatrician (who remains haunted by her misdiagnosis of a small child's fatal illness) and current resident of Bayfield, New Jersey (who now lives at the Oakview Motor Lodge), is poised to continue in her 'habit of getting into trouble.'

Following an opening chapter in which a dead body is discovered (which is a good beginning as noted in the final paragraph below), 32-year old Jo Banks (a physician practicing at Bayfield's Bridgeton Hospital) wanders near a barn in her rural neighborhood, and she hears something that intrigues her; then - quicker than you can say sleight of hand - she finds herself on the wrong end of a loaded revolver while providing urgent medical treatment to a badly injured man. What begins as emergency care under peculiar duress turns into a leisurely mystery involving an eccentric man (with an enigmatic background), his 20-year old Down syndrome daughter (whose fondness for stray cats hints at her impressive capabilities), and the daughter's missing mother (who has apparently run away to New York City and disappeared without a trace - as if by magic - but has remained closer to her daughter than anyone could have guessed).

Well, as hinted at above, with a dead body appearing on the very first page, Robin Hathaway's latest Jo Banks mystery responds admirably to the sage advice about writing good old fashioned mysteries: you need to start with a dead body, the sooner the better, and the deader the better. Jo Banks' story is overflowing with charm and is enriched by some interesting characters involved in an out of the ordinary plot, though the narrative's shifting points-of-view might be a minor distraction for some readers in this otherwise entertaining cozy mystery. Finally, there is a wholesome quality to Sleight of Hand that means you could comfortably recommend this book (and any of Ms. Hathaway's other books) to your grandmother, your maiden aunt, your adolescent niece, or anyone else who would enjoy an unpretentious and inoffensive murder mystery without the gore, brutality, ugliness, cynicism, and R-rated vocabulary so frequently encountered in contemporary titles.

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