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Local author continues rural New York mysteries

By JERRY McGOVERN

Special to the Enterprise

Elizabethtown author T.J. Brearton continues to write good mysteries set in upstate New York. His latest, “The Husbands,” is about a serial killer murdering women in central New York, including Liverpool and Auburn.

The “separate homicides in different jurisdictions” prompts the F.B.I. to send its young profiler, Kelly Roth, on a plane to Syracuse to assist in the investigation. Roth is from Baldwinsville, so she knows the area. She also has a history Brearton hints at, a history that includes suffering a violent assault from some local pub patrons when she was younger.

“The Husbands” focuses on Roth’s procedural approach to the apparent random murders that take place in public parks. She does more forensic analysis and logical detecting that criminal profiling, and infringes on the usual territorial concerns of municipal law enforcement.

What sets the story apart, however, making it a psychological thriller in addition to a whodunit, is the contact the killer makes with the widowed husbands after the shootings.

The killer calls and texts the husbands alluded to in the title, teasing them with the possibility of learning his identity and then revenge. Roth uses the technical expertise of the FBI to trace the calls, which eventually lead to a professor/author at Wells College, whose writing bears a striking resemblance to what the caller communicates to the husbands.

Is the self-absorbed professor, in whose class one of the victims was registered, the murderer, an accomplice, or more collateral damage rippling from the crime? Agent Roth follows the leads.

One lead brings her to a remote Adirondack cabin, where a grieving husband from Auburn had gone for solitude. Or, the murderer had gone to hide. The visit of Roth and the Liverpool police chief she has been teaming with, turns violent

Brearton’s rural New York state mysteries are reminiscent of Archer Mayor’s stories located in Vermont. Mayor’s police detective, Joe Gunther, is a local scouring the dairy farms and trailer parks looking for clues. Both authors can describe the violent human ugliness set in the natural beauty.

Brearton’s introduction of Kelly Roth offers the author the opportunity to have a continuing character the reader can identify with and root for. Roth’s backstory — her family, her trauma, her relationship with her father — is not fully developed in this novel, but offers rich opportunity for growth.

Maybe the next Brearton novel will solve not just a crime, but the mystery of Agent Roth.