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Book Review: Dead Letter: Addressee Unknown

Dead Letter: Addressee Unknown. Janet Feduska Cole. Pegasus Books, April 21, 2014, Trade Paperback and E-Book, 210 pages.

Reviewed by Sue Merrell.

When you are knee-deep in a Chicago winter and need an escape, a book with exotic locations, quirky characters, and high-risk adventure could be just what you’re looking for.

The second book in Janet Feduska Cole’s philatelic mystery series, Dead Letter: Addressee Unknown, offers all three. Dead Letter takes the reader on a river cruise through Germany and Austria with a cast of secret Interpol agents. The heroine and narrator, Elyse, is accompanied by her friend Saul, a slightly nerdy petro glyph expert, and her magazine editor, Auturo, whose heavy Polish accent cloaks every exchange with humor and mystery. In addition, her mysterious college friend, Karl, and his voluptuous bride, Mindy, are never far away. Elyse refers to them as the Slarls—a combination of “slutwoman” and Karl—and they’re the perfect comic nemeses, bungling yet vaguely threatening. Elyse and her friends are hot on the trail of $50 million worth of rare stamps that were pilfered from Jewish collectors during WWII and then hidden, possibly in the Lunersee Lake in Austria.

Cole enjoys outdoor activities such as scuba diving and rock climbing, and these interests flavor her storytelling. Cole also has a nice understated sense of humor.  Unfortunately, though, I do not think Dead Letter lives up to the full potential of the intriguing storyline. The first half of the book is sluggish, mainly because Elyse is narrating instead of participating in the action. She tells the reader about a variety of wonderful World War II mysteries, such as the disappearance of Russia’s opulent Amber Room, but she tells them as she uncovers them on the Internet. There’s also very little interplay between the characters in the first half.  In the second half of the book, the pace picks up with more character interaction and an exciting climax.

Most of the scenes could use more detail. For instance, the book opens with Elyse reporting for jury duty, but I had no idea this scene was taking place in my old hometown of Joliet until much later in the book when Elyse recalls a “mysterious character in the Joliet courthouse.” Likewise, since Dead Letter is the second book in the series, it takes the reader a while to figure out who the characters are and how they are connected. This lack of background leaves the reader a bit disoriented. In addition, the publisher did not provide much in the way of editing and proofreading, and I was surprised by some of the errors (Auschwitz is spelled “Auswitch” in three places).

With better editing, and more character and scene development, Dead Letter could be as much fun as the Indiana Jones adventures. 


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