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A Bel Barrett Mystery
By Jane Isenberg

Avon, 2004
ISBN: 0-06-057751-7

Reviewed by Shirley H. Wetzel

The students in Bel Barrett's senior citizen writing class all have stories to tell, and Dom Tomaselli's tales of raising racing pigeons after World War II are among the most interesting. When the old man takes a header off the roof where his birds once roosted, his distraught daughter comes to Bel and tells her it was no accident, and it most definitely was not suicide. Although Bel has plenty to do taking care of her other students and planning her wedding, she decides to find out what really happened to Dom, enlisting the assistance of her friends and family members. Bel has solved a crime or two in her day, and although her beau, Sol, objects to this sometimes dangerous pastime she pushes on. This time he grumbles, but says that she can solve all the murders in New Jersey as long as she takes time to plan their wedding. As the case progresses she find she's too busy to do that, but she has plenty of kinfolk and friends willing to plan it for her - each with his or her own idea of what makes a perfect wedding, none even close to what Bel has in mind.

Bel's quest for the truth gives the reader an interesting look at New Jersey history and politics over the last five decades. One student's story about a devastating fire in her rent-controlled building twenty-five years ago leads to Bel's discover that this was a common practice by landlords wanting to sell their property to developers, a practice not uncommon today. This discovery lead her to fear that someone in her seniors class might be an arsonist and blackmailer, and possibly a murderer.

While Isenberg's "hook" for this series is Bel's struggle with menopause symptoms, and this is sometimes amusing, I could have done with less detail on her problems with stress incontinence. A little goes a long way, and the interspersed e-mails between Bel and her online support group gives a lot more information about the condition than we really need to know.

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