Batavia-on-Hudson is a small town with a lot going on underneath the surface. The book opens on a murder scene. A diminutive, 90-year-old nun has been bashed over the head with a rock. Her valuable family ring (question: do nuns wear valuable family rings?) is missing, and seemingly supplies the motive. But soon afterwards, her oldest friend is found dead of hypothermia under a wide-open window. Are the two deaths connected at all, or was the second just a tragic mishap?
Bianca St Denis is one to wonder. She’s a relative newcomer to the town, and a fairly recent widow as well. She is still settling in. She joins the L.O.C.A.L group–Ladies Of a Certain Age League–and is beginning to make friends, spending her time at the local diner enjoying cappuccinos and croissants, or involving herself in local politics. As she digs deeper into new friendships and ways of life, she begins to see that everyone has their secrets.
Meanwhile, Sheriff Mike Riley is determined to figure things out. He’s got a bit of a crush on Bianca, but he squelches it ruthlessly while doing his best to figure out who on earth could have murdered such an innocent, beloved character. He’s got PTSD from his time on the beat in New York, his marriage is on the rocks, and his friend Bert is almost certainly lying to him about his whereabouts on the night in question.
Like the townspeople, Winter Witness takes its time revealing its secrets. I didn’t realize Bianca was a widow until several chapters in, and I was rather surprised to find out, three-quarters of the way through, that the book is set in the early 80s. (although it does make sense) It’s kind of a cozy mystery, although it has a bit more of a bite than some of them. The author spends time creating a world that is on the verge of change–the hottest political topic is whether or not to let in a casino and subsequent development. Things don’t really pick up speed until the last quarter of the book spins out to a breathless ending, showing that sometimes the answer to the future lies in the past. The characters are fun to spend time with, and the pace of life is manageable. Nowadays, that can be a delightful break.
AUTHOR BIO: Tina deBellegarde lives in Catskill, New York with her husband Denis and their cat Shelby. Winter Witness is the first book in the Batavia-on-Hudson Mystery Series. Tina also writes short stories and flash fiction. When she isn’t writing, she is helping Denis tend their beehives, harvest shiitake mushrooms, and cultivate their vegetable garden. She travels to Japan regularly to visit her son, Alessandro. Tina did her graduate studies in history. She is a former exporter, paralegal, teacher, and library clerk.