“OUTSIDE THE LINES”
Book Review by Jackie Houchin
Sheila Lowe’s newest Claudia Rose Forensic Handwriting mystery delivers just what you are looking for; murder and mayhem, crime scene investigation, clues and mis-clues, secret assignations, lovers’ spats, blurred lines between right and wrong, escalating suspense, and unique to Lowe’s books, a protagonist who can read a killer’s thoughts and intents from a mere sampling of his handwriting.
OUTSIDE THE LINES begins with a bang, literally. A maid attempts to gather her vacationing employer’s mail one morning and dies after a mailbox bomb explodes in her face. LAPD Homicide Detective Joel Jovanic catches the case and quickly discerns the incident to be more than a prank.
Across town in the Los Angeles Criminal Courts building, Claudia Rose testifies as an expert witness in a murder trial involving gang member, Danny Ortiz. Having given her condemning statement, she exits the stand, only to be ferociously attacked and nearly murdered by the unrestrained gangbanger. Worse yet, clips of the incident replay endlessly on the local news channels, exposing not only Ortiz’s rage, but a good deal of Claudia’s brief undergarments.
Traumatized and nursing her wounds, Claudia hides at home, jumping at every noise, seeing shadows where none exist; the classic symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Det. Jovanic is both enraged by the attack on his fiancé and anxious about her emotional state. To relieve the tension at home, he submerges himself in the mailbox bombing investigation.
Relief from her growing paranoia comes in the form of an invitation to speak at the prestigious British Institute of Graphologists Conference in the UK. Claudia gratefully accepts, but before leaving, she helps Jovanic identify the author of the bomb threat from a writing specimen found inside a nearby geo-cache container. Under the “People for Safe Food” moniker, she detects an erased signature, that of a known eco-terrorist.
In London, a surprise interview by a TV journalist puts Claudia in the limelight, and on the spot. Asked her opinion on a handwritten note found in a similar geo-cache container in London after a local bombing, Claudia is reluctant to speak. The two samples were not written by the same person, but this contradicts the resident expert’s opinion, a man Claudia knows to be untrained and biased.
Across the Pond, Jovanic’s investigation leads him to the CEO of Agrichem, a company that produces toxic pesticides. Lab reports from the mailbox bomb confirm the lethal chemical is used in Agrichem’s pesticides. The detective senses something is off, especially after interviewing the company’s reclusive “mad” research scientist.
Meanwhile Claudia meets with members of the People for Safe Food activist group and responds to their grief with compassion, earning her the ire of New Scotland Yard. Jovanic’s interviews produce testimony just as compelling about the need for pesticides in feeding a hungry world. Two sides of the world and two sides of a controversial issue. Which side is responsible for murder?
More cruel attacks and homicides keep Jovanic working at a manic pace, while Claudia is politely asked to leave the UK. At home, she and Jovanic face another more personal issue, which could determine the future of their life together. Finally a truce is called and the pair work together using their specialties to identify a very cold and ruthless murderer. The detective determines to take him down, and now Claudia is the one fearing for her lover’s life.
Part fast-paced police procedural and part Sherlockian puzzle mystery, Lowe’s OUTSIDE THE LINES, delivers food for the intellectual as well as the suspense addict. And for readers like me who are fascinated with the Forensic Handwriting Analysis profession, it’s a treat indeed. The police have sketch artists, Crime Scene Investigators, and DNA testing. Handwriting examiners testify in court, bringing evidence that often brings a guilty verdict. But Sheila Lowe has an unstoppable crime investigating team in Claudia Rose and Detective Joel Jovanic.
OUTSIDE THE LINES Amazon link: https://amzn.com/B01IPKPRNG
OUTSIDE THE LINES is sixth in the popular mystery series. Sheila Lowe has also written a stand-alone thriller in which her Handwriting Specialist appears in a minor role (What She Saw). Like her fictional character Claudia Rose, Lowe is a real-life forensic handwriting expert who testifies in court cases. She has begun work on the 7th book in the series, UNHOLY WRIT.
As the current president of the American Handwriting Analysis Foundation (a 50 yr old non-profit), Lowe is working with their Campaign for Cursive committee to bring attention to the importance of maintaining cursive training in the public school curriculum. A recently published white paper on the topic is available for free download: http://www.ahafhandwriting.org/sites/default/pdf/white-paper.pdf
For a live podcast (and transcript) interview of Sheila Lowe by Laura Brennan of Destination Mystery visit: http://destinationmystery.com/episode-17-sheila-lowe/ In it Lowe reveals more about the two major areas of handwriting analysis, as well as a formerly unrecognized “theme” to her writing that Brennan identifies. As to her writing fiction, Lowe discloses the title of the book that got her started on her mystery writing career… at the young age of 8.
Can you guess what it was? Nope, not Nancy Drew.