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Reviewed by Liz Konkel for Readers' Favorite
Death, Unchartered by Dorothy Van Soest is the second book in the Sylvia Jensen mystery series. When a skeleton is found at the site where a new charter school is being built, Sylvia digs into her past as a teacher during the teachers' strike of 1968. When the skeleton is revealed to be Markus LeMeur, one of her third-grade students who went missing in 1968, she'll do anything to find answers. Sylvia turns to investigative reporter J.B. Harrell for help, and reaches out to Markus's sister, Mentayer, who lived with Sylvia and her ex-husband for a time and whom she hasn't seen in years. Flashbacks to the teachers' strikes follow her experience as a teacher fighting back against threats, facing the death of a student, the disappearance of Markus, and making surprising allies.
Dorothy Van Soest uses personal experience as inspiration for a story centering on the New York teachers' strike of 1968. Van Soest incorporates social issues and an inside look at the school system as Sylvia uses the past to solve a murder mystery. The story is set between two time periods: 2006 and 1968. The past focuses mainly on the teachers' strike while the present pulls from the past to solve the mystery of Markus's disappearance. In 2006, Sylvia faces the struggle of solving a murder mystery and accepting the past while also striving for closure when she discovers answers to the disappearance of a student. She's driven and passionate about helping children and seeking justice. She's forced to confront her past, specifically her relationship with Mentayer whom she hasn't seen in years. Their initial meeting has friction as these past issues are brought back up and they have to learn to lean on each other again. As they reconnect, their relationship in the past is revealed through the flashbacks when Mentayer was still a child.
In the 1968 flashbacks, Sylvia faces a teachers' strike which brings threatening phone calls when she chooses to open the school and cross the picket line to allow children to attend school. These flashbacks are emotional and poignant as Sylvia goes from a young idealistic teacher bonding with students to being in the center of this brutal strike and having to stand her ground to fight back against her fellow teachers. Van Soest has a strong voice exploring a passionate search for justice in this mystery. Sylvia's relationship with her husband is highlighted in the background of the past scenes, which has an interesting contrast to the present as she's now divorced and Frank is only seen in the past. The relationships focused on are primarily with Mentayer and Markus, both in the past and future. Death, Unchartered is a murder mystery involved in social issues, school systems, and the treatment of students while exploring relationships in the past and present, and the fight for justice.