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Reviewed by Emily-Jane Hills Orford for Readers' Favorite
If you were to commit some heinous crime like murder, should you be punished under the legal system without your admission of guilt? That’s what Dr. Agnes Taylor defends in her thesis on self-accusation. She’s visiting a Halifax university, job-hunting for a professorship – somewhere. Her arguments appear to fall on deaf, or at least, reluctant and argumentative ears, but there’s more to attract attention than Agnes’ theories. There’s been a murder and a murder hunt ensues. With her mother and her best friend, cousin Rachel, close by, Agnes faces down her adversary both on the academic stage and in the hunt for justice for a student whose life was tragically cut short.
Eva Bernhard’s novel, Absent Beauty: Agnes Taylor Mystery, is a short novella, a prequel to the Agnes Taylor mystery series. The plot begins with Agnes witnessing a strange event; a beautiful woman taking flight with an unlikeable character in hot pursuit. Always with a curious, astute eye for strange happenings, Agnes takes center stage as the plot develops around the campus of Dalhousie University in Halifax. With considerable descriptive narrative and engaging dialogue, the plot progresses well, capturing the reader’s attention right from the beginning. There are a number of unexpected tangents, twists and turns that eventually lead Agnes to the murderer and solving the heinous crime, while, at the same time, defending her thesis on self-accusation. Even though her academic theories have her firmly believing that “any self-accusation under duress was null and void because, if in fear, people might admit to things they never did,” Agnes also firmly believes in the “no harm principle” that “no one has a right to harm others.” It’s also one of the Ten Commandments. This story introduces Agnes’ amateur sleuthing skills and opens the possibilities for an exciting series of murder mysteries.