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Reviewed by Ruth Castleberry for Readers' Favorite
In Written Off by Sheila Lowe, forensic handwriting analyst Claudia Rose travels to Maine to conduct a final interview with a female serial killer. The interview is needed so the ex-husband of a murdered author, Professor Madeline Maynard, can complete her unfinished manuscript for publication. Professor Maynard taught criminal psychology, studied female serial killers and their histories, and chose five grad students to work on a special project each year. Claudia also has to find the manuscript and is conveniently put up in the professor's house for her stay. Naturally this allows Claudia to search for the manuscript and to spend time exploring Professor Maynard's environment and reviewing personal and professional items she finds.
Over the course of four days, Claudia is exposed to college faculty politics, the sudden appearance of an unexpected heir to the professor's estate with a new handwritten will, the emotional relationships among the five graduate students known as Maynard's Maniacs and the police chief's request to assist with validating the new will. The professor's housekeeper, Melva, and attorney, Jim Spencer, also provide insight and perspective on the professor's life as they interact with Claudia. Sheila Lowe's background as an actual forensic handwriting expert with a Master's Degree in Psychology is quite evident in the way she uses her knowledge and experience to generate details about female serial killers and the psychological profiles she paints of certain characters. The final scenes involving the mystery are played out in the professor's big house, complete with hidden passages, and the small cabin where the professor's body was found.
Sheila Lowe's Forensic Handwriting mysteries are a joy to read. Written Off, the seventh adventure, is well conceived, intelligent and complex. Ms. Lowe combines her skill as a writer with her professional background and experience to create rich characters and relationships. I am impressed with Ms. Lowe's effective use of narration and exposition to keep the story moving. The pace, while thoughtful, never seems too slow. Dialogue flows naturally and is realistic. I also found myself learning more about female serial killers due to Ms. Lowe's ability to weave the information into the story line in meaningful ways. The book's dedication provides a clue to how strongly Ms. Lowe feels about the subject matter of her work in Written Off, and the reason behind the title. When I finished Written Off, I felt that I had just read a story created with a lot of heart.