Deputy coroner Mattie Winston knows a thing or two about dead bodies. That’s why she’s on the case of Derrick Ames, a high school math teacher stabbed to death with a barbecue fork straight to the heart. Sure, she’s turned up some motives and a few suspects, but nothing adds up. Especially when the evidence points to Ames’s teenage son. Newly pregnant Mattie can’t believe it, even as her own long-estranged father may be following her. But one things certain, she’d better start figuring things out fast, or a deadly perpetrator could be subtracting two more victims from the population of Sorenson, Wisconsin.
Derrick Ames was a well-liked, divorced math teacher. Following the divorce, he and his ex-wife share custody, and she lives only a few blocks away. Their sons are still hoping for reconciliation. Did walking in on his father and his girlfriend shatter the son's dream and cause him to violently kill his father? Mattie doesn't believe that and is looking at other possibilities. There are multiple other potential suspects from the single mother who delivers flowers and was involved with Ames, to his ex-wife and the socialite, or the man lurking outside her home.
Mattie Winston is a likable coroner and sleuth with a mix of sarcasm, cynicism, and humanity. She's dealing with her own issues of abandonment and insecurity as she prepares to be a single mother. Her attempts to hide her pregnancy until she can tell Hurley and issues with the teen age daughter suddenly living with him add to the complexity of her situation.
Mattie not only is involved in solving the murder but trying to find out about the mysterious father she never knew and her rather flaky mother won't talk about. All sorts of questions are raised when her mother recognizes the drawing of a man lurking outside her home as her father. At the same time, her venture into buying maternity clothes, her neighbors, and some of her comments add a bit of humor.
STIFF PENALTY is part of a series - BOARD STIFF, LUCKY STIFF, FROZEN STIFF - but can easily be read as a stand alone. Ryan moves the story and subplots together artfully and pulls the pieces together at the end.
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