Reviewed by Caryl Barnes.
A crackerjack plot is crucial – it’s what keeps us reading. The plot of Kathryn Flatt’s latest mystery, Dabblers, is compelling from start to finish. Artist Stefanie Durant inherited Uncle Hank’s house on Windsong Lake, a refuge for several blissful summers during a childhood otherwise far from normal. Stefanie was born with an unusual mind. She has outstanding creative and pattern-recognition skills but problems with basic concepts like reading and math. At puberty, a strong psychic ability called the Ken – the “knowing” – exploded into her life, bringing terrifying visions of future disasters. Stephanie learned to suppress the Ken and, for more than twenty years, kept it secret from everyone, even Paul, her beloved husband and soul mate.
From the moment Stephanie arrived to inspect her new property, she knew something was terribly wrong. Uncle Hank, whose body had apparently burst into flames after a lightning strike, left Stefanie not only his property but also the hidden key to a room crammed with recently acquired books on weather and the occult – two important clues in unlocking the mystery.
We learn right away that two of her childhood friends had adopted a pagan religion and dabble in magic, Amy Greenleaf for good and Melinda Van Zant for evil.
Who killed Uncle Hank and how and why? Was it the old friend who embraced dark magic, or was it the builder of the mysterious altar-like structure in the woods behind Hank’s property? And will releasing the Ken help solve the mystery or will it drive Stefanie to madness?
Fascinating characters are as important as plot. More than twenty people show up in Dabblers, most, of course, in minor roles, but even these are distinctive. For instance, we peer into the minds and hearts of Lorna Nesbitt, Uncle Hank’s reclusive next-door neighbor, and Adam Greenleaf, Amy’s ex-husband, who decided that living with Amy and their daughter Hannah is a grounded, day-by-day way to love everything in the universe, ultimately more rewarding than the ascetic Buddhist discipline for which he had left his family.
Several weeks after I finished Dabblers I was still thinking about the relationship between Stefanie and Paul. They both insist they’re “the two halves of some greater whole.” After twenty years of marriage, they remain passionately in love. However, Paul monitors Stefanie’s every syllable, which Stefanie, who says she needs protection, supposedly welcomes. For twenty years Stefanie has not told Paul about the Ken, and during most of Dabblers she lies to him by omission about her activities to unravel several Windsong Lake mysteries. The couple at first seem like a classic example of codependency to Stefanie’s old friend Amy – and to me, the reader – and yet the moment Amy sees the two together, their separate auras merge into a single, pure white radiance, something she has never seen before. They are old souls, and their relationship is complicated.
Flatt is a very good writer. The book is easy and delightful to read, provides the requisite tension of murder mysteries, leads the main characters into a deeper understanding of themselves, and, at the same time, weaves in themes like global warming and corporate greed. As one who knows many New Age, or pagan, practices myself, I was impressed with the author’s succinct explanations of hands-on healing, gemstone therapy, and auras.
Dabblers is the first book in the new Windsong Lake Series, which is Flatt’s third series. She has published one stand-alone novel and two books in each of two other series. See her blog, kathrynflattsauthorpage.blogspot.com, to find more information about Flatt and her works.