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Stranger Room
By Frederick Ramsay

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Stranger Room

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Stranger Room
By Frederick Ramsay
Read How You Want, (2010)
EasyRead Large Print, in 16 Point Font
(Originally Published in Standard Print by Poisoned Pen Press)
ISBN: 9781458743848
Genre: Locked-Room Mystery

Reviewed by Rochelle Caviness - July 6, 2010

Locked-room mysteries are the pinnacle of the mystery genre. Not only does the writer have to craft a reasonably solid mystery, but they have to have, at its center, a crime that takes place inside a locked room in which no one could have conceivably entered. In Stranger Room, Frederick Ramsay takes an ambitious track, providing the reader with not one, but two locked room mysteries that take place more than a hundred and fifty years apart.

The title of this book, Stranger Room comes from the 19th century American practice of setting aside, or building, a room in one's house that has a separate entrance and no connection to the main house. These rooms were rented out to, well, strangers. Often these 'guests' were overflows from inns and taverns, or in more remote areas, itinerant salesman and travelers just passing through.

In this case, both locked room mysteries take place in the same 'stranger room' of the same house. The first occurs in 1864 when Franklin Brian is found shot to death inside the stranger room belonging to Captain Jonathan Lydell. This room has no windows, and no other means of egress other than the room's door. When Brian, who was suppose to leave on the morning stage is a no show, Lydell goes to the room to wake him. Getting no answer and finding the door locked from the inside, he orders the door broken down. Inside they find Brian, shot in the back. Who did it, why, and more important, how, is never determined as events surrounding the war between the states soon takes precedence over the murder of a stranger.

That is, until the present day, when an almost identical crime occurs. This time the murdered man is Anton Grotz, and the owner of the house, 78-year-old Jonathan Lydell IV. As with the first murder, Lydell has cause to try to rouse Grotz. When he doesn't answer the door, and it turns out the door is locked from the inside, it is broken open and the murdered man discovered. Like Brain, Grotz was shot in the back with no sign of how the killer got into, or out of, the locked room.

Called in to investigate this case is local sheriff, Ike Schwartz and a suspended FBI agent, by the name of Karl Hedrick who is temporarily working as Ike's deputy. This story is set near the town of Bolton, Virginia, deep in the heart of the Shenadoah Valley region, an area steeped in tradition and history. Jonathan Lydell IV is a stodgy old man who would have been more at ease in his great-grandfather's day than in the present. He holds tight to his heritage and his perceived notion that he is better than everyone else simply because his family has lived in the area for generations.

When Ike and Karl show up to investigate Grotz's murder, Lydell is a bit put out - namely because Ike is Jewish and Karl is Afro-American. The tension that arises between this moth-eaten aristocrat and the police officers are to play an important part in the story line. As are the social ripples caused by the fact that Ike is openly sleeping with Ruth Harris, the president of the local Women's College. The fact that the two are lovers - without benefit of marriage - and that this is a mixed relationship, religious wise, has upset a number of local residents who think that Harris should be setting a better example for her 'girls'. To complicate matters, several friends of the former sheriff are bent upon discrediting Ike by any means possible so that the 'good old boys' can regain control of the police department.

Stranger Room is a well-paced and enjoyable mystery into which several subplots have been interwoven. In writing this book, Ramsay has done an admirable job of setting up and unfolding the multiple layers of this intriguing story. Most important, at least from the standpoint of locked-room mystery fans, he also provides a satisfying and logical solution to the lock room mysteries.

Stranger Room is available from Read How You Want, an on-demand publisher that makes books available in a variety of formats including Braille, DAISY, and five different large print formats. This range of formats makes this, and other books, available not only to visually impaired individuals, but also anyone with a reading or physical disability that makes reading standard print books difficult.

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