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SUTURE SELF

A bed-and-breakfast mystery
by Mary Daheim

William Morrow, 2001

Reviewed by Shirley H. Wetzel

Judith Flynn, intrepid bed-and-breakfast owner and sometime amateur crime-solver, has been laid low by hip problems. She is worried about having surgery, especially after two local celebrities die in her hospital, Good Cheer Hospital, after simple procedures, but her pain outweighs her fears. She is soon recovering in the shabby room in the old Catholic hospital, helped and/or hindered by her roommate, her volatile cousin Renie, who had shoulder surgery on the same day. The duo quickly become bored with their enforced immobility and the lousy food, and look for ways to enliven their stay. When yet another celebrity bites the dust under suspicious circumstances, the ladies make it their mission to find out what's really happening at Good Cheer.

Fans of the series will enjoy this installment. The usual characters are present: Judith's mother-from Hell, Gertrude, husband Joe, retired cop turned private detective, son Mike, and Renie's psychologist husband Bill. The new characters are equally as entertaining, or in some cases, annoying. There are some interesting sub-plots, including one where Judith's son Mike asks her to draw up a family tree for his pre-school son's school project. She wrestles with the problem of which of Mike's fathers to put on the chart. Is it time to let him know the truth, or should she let well enough alone?

While I did enjoy this book, I had a few problems with it. Some of the hospital staff seemed to be unusually eager to share hospital gossip and confidential patient information with Judith and Renie, and Renie's husband Bill commits what I see as a major breach of patient-doctor confidentiality just to appease his wife's curiosity. But maybe these things do happen, and for the sake of this story they have to happen, so I'll suspend my disbelief on those points.

I have more of a problem with one of the other sub-plots involving Bob and Jim Randall, a pair of "mirror" twins. Bob is a superstar athlete, handsome, smart, and rich. His brother is the opposite in every way, a pathetic, sickly loser. Think Arnold Swartzenegger and Danny DiVito in the movie "Twins." It makes for an interesting story line, but Daheim could have done more research. As the grandmother of an adorable set of 5-year old mirror image twins, I've learned a lot, by research and personal observation, about this fairly rare type of twinship, and Daheim got some of it wrong. Mirror image twins have some distinctive traits: usually one will be left-handed and one right, and the hair will swirl in opposite directions on the crown of their heads. In some cases, personalities will also be opposite: one may be outgoing, one shy. Occasionally the internal ograns are reversed as well, but they are genetically identical, and their state of health, intelligence, and mental balance are not that far apart.

Some may be "face-to-face" in the womb, which Daheim cites as the norm for mirror image twins, but many aren't. To be fair, I read a pre-publication copy, complete with notes by the editor asking for more detail on this subject, and it may be different in the finished copy. Most people probably won't notice, but I like for authors to get things right. Daheim could have used another type of twin phenomena, twin transfusion syndrome, to explain the vast difference between Bob and Jim. In this case, one of the twins takes the lion's share of nutrients in the womb, to the detriment of his sibling. The weaker baby may not survive; if he does, he may be weaker throughout life. Or not. End of lecture. The book is a fun read and Daheim's fans won't be disappointed. Unless they, too, have mirror image twins in the family.

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