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What Rose Forgot
By Nevada Barr
Minotaur, 2019

What Rose Forgot  by Nevada Barr Minotaur 2019

Rose Dennis is the canny heroine of this deftly wrought standalone from Nevada Barr (taking a break from her bestselling series about National Park Ranger Anna Pigeon). She calls to mind my favorite female sleuth, Agatha Christie’s Miss Jane Marple. Introduced in Murder at the Vicarage (1930), Miss Marple has placidly knitted her way through many a complicated case. She’s the apple of Mrs. Christie’s “I”. As so aptly expressed in The Body in the Library (1942) by one of her ardent admirers, retired Commissioner of Scotland Yard Sir Henry Clithering, “Downstairs in the lounge, by the third pillar from the left, there is an old lady with a sweet, placid, spinsterish face, and a mind that has plumbed the depths of human iniquity and taken it as all in a day’s work. Her name’s Miss Marple. She comes from the village of St. Mary Mead…and where crime is concerned she’s the goods.” 

At 68, Rose is a spring chicken compared to Miss Marple’s 74.  She has managed two escapes from Longwood, a Memory Care Unit for dementia in Charlotte, N.C. She stops taking her meds and overpowers the night nurse who is, thankfully, no Nurse Ratchet. As she observes, in one of her numerous pithy asides while she’s on the lam and, not so incidentally, fighting drug induced amnesia:

To Longwood she is worth seven grand a month on the hoof, if she is alive, but Longwood has a waiting line. What with baby boomers beginning to lose their collective marbles, dementia care is a seller’s market. 

After her second escape, she manages to locate her 13-year-old granddaughter, Mel. Wise well beyond her years, Mel is more than willing to aid and abet her grandmother. She calls Rose Gigi, sometimes adding Rinpoche which means “precious one” in Tibetan. (Precocious doesn’t do Mel justice.)  To Rose, Mel is often “grasshopper”.

As her memory returns, she remembers that her beloved husband Harley recently died unexpectedly. According to Mel, his death was suspicious! And it is because she began acting strangely after his death that she was put in Longwood. While she is in hiding at Melanie’s house, a man with a knife breaks in and tries to kill her.  She manages to get the better of the intruder (…able to leap tall buildings...). In the melee she cuts off his finger–a lady never knows what she’ll need and when. Now that she knows someone is trying to get rid of her, the question is why. She knows with every fiber of her frail being that it’s related to Longwood and nefarious practices therein:

Rose is not important enough to be drugged and murdered for her own sake. There is a profit motive somewhere, either to an individual or the institution. If it is profitable to hasten one little old lady into that good night, it will be ever so much more profitable to hasten a dozen or a score. Follow the money. Everybody says that.

Rose sorts it all out with aplomb and great good humor. She outmaneuvers the cops, bests her possibly malevolent relatives, uncovers an inheritance-grabbing murder scheme, and fingers the culprits, so to speak. The media gets a hold of her story and labels her “Gun Granny”:

Gun Granny. Rose cringes. Could ageism and sexism have made a more unholy match than “Gun Granny”? What is wrong with Vixen Vigilante? Senior Siren? Armed and cantankerous? At this Juncture Rose would settle for Walker Woman. “Gun Granny” is horrid on so many levels she might actually welcome solitary confinement. 

It doesn’t end with the media frenzy. The ending, as befits this original, madcap mystery, is one last lovely surprise. What Rose Forgot is a winner on every level!

—Irma Heldman is a veteran publishing executive and book reviewer with a penchant for mysteries. One of her favorite gigs was her magazine column “On the Docket” under the pseudonym O. L. Bailey.