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Vee Kumari
Dharma, A Rekha Rao Mystery
Vee Kumari, author

Adult; Mystery/Thriller; (Market)

Rekha Rao, an Indian American professor of Art History, propelled by her sense of duty, dharma, sets out to find the killer of her mentor and father figure. She walks a thin line between her match-making family and the Homicide Detective she is attracted to, but also distrusts. Despite suffering bodily harm following a break-in of her home, Rekha tracks down the killer and in that process, tastes the prospect of an unexpected romance, and discovers her true calling.
A professor of art history is reluctantly drawn into the investigation of her mentor’s murder, while navigating mental health challenges and possible romantic feelings, in Kumari’s strong debut. Rekha Rao, an Indian-American professor of art history at Occidental College, is called in by the Pasadena, Calif., police to identify a statue found on the body of Joseph Faust, Rekha’s father figure and an archaeology professor. The statue depicts Durga, a powerful incarnation of a Hindu goddess, who killed a terribly destructive demon. When Rekha hears that Bill McGraw, one of her students, is a suspect in Faust’s murder, she reluctantly decides to try to find the killer and clear Bill’s name. Her father was murdered a few years prior, investigating his case cost her tenure, and the PTSD brought on by her father’s murder was exacerbated by her ex-boyfriend’s abuse. Rekha’s recovery complicates her investigation into Faust’s early life, as do her mother’s attempt to matchmake and her growing attraction to Al Newton, a detective working on Faust’s case.

Kumari’s experience as both a professor and a first-generation Indian-American imbues Rekha with a layered realism. Kumari weaves in Rekha’s cultural roots, discussing the art, myths, and traditions of the Indian diaspora, and considers the difficulties Rekha could face in a relationship with Al, who is an outsider to her culture. These considerations add richness to the story, drawing the reader into Rekha’s complex interior world as she navigates the academy, her family, and the law.

The novel’s swift pacing continues unabated through its final scenes. With plenty of twists and turns, Kumari’s plot will keep the reader guessing until the conclusion. This intense update to the cozy genre, with richly drawn characters and a well-constructed mystery, will have readers eagerly anticipating future installments.

Takeaway: This fast-paced cozy mystery with layered characters is sure to please readers drawn to protagonists with strong cultural roots.

Great for fans of Leena Clover’s Christmas with the Franks, Mary Angela’s Coming Up Murder.

Production grades
Cover: B
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: -
Editing: A
Marketing copy: -

Kirkus Reviews

An amateur sleuth investigates the murders of her father and her university mentor.

The star of this debut mystery is Rekha Rao, an Indian American art history professor caught in the middle of a violent nightmare. The Southern California–based story opens with Rao being unceremoniously notified by police about the heinous murder of her mentor, archaeology professor Joseph Faust. He was bludgeoned to death with a Hindu goddess statue possibly absconded from his excavation site in India. Rao is asked to assist in supplying information on a possible motive for Faust’s murder, but she’s still reeling from the devastatingly traumatic effects of the senseless killing of her own father, a physician bludgeoned to death in his clinic just three years earlier. That homicide became even more complex after a janitor was arrested for the crime. But when Rao insisted the accused was innocent and that police reopen the case, they refused. When one of her students is brought in for questioning and then arrested in connection with Faust’s murder, Rao knows she needs to work fast to find answers as various suspicions, accusations, and suspects (including Faust’s wife and his cross-dressing son) begin orbiting the criminal inquiry. Rao also becomes increasingly frustrated with the general pace of the police-led investigation and, against Pasadena Police Detective Al Newton’s advice, begins her own amateur sleuthing, which puts her directly in harm’s way.

Rao is an instantly likable character whose respect for her family and her Indian heritage makes her a courageous, determined, reliable, believable, and humanitarian heroine for readers to cheer as she perilously attempts to piece together both crimes. “My goal to take care of all my dharmas was not a facetious one,” the protagonist reflects. Her undeniable attraction to the confident, handsome senior homicide detective creates some added romantic tension and another layer of intrigue to the narrative. Playing out over the course of just a few months, the story demonstrates Kumari’s uncanny knack for putting all of her characters and crimes in place and tying up loose ends in an economy of pages. Combining Hinduism, Hindu mythology, old jealousies and grudges, family melodrama, hidden secrets, and another death, the novel presents a winning recipe for an absorbing read. While the tale has many plot elements continuously spinning, the academic-turned–actress-and-author keeps a firm grip on the main plotline, which she skillfully and quite suspensefully brings to a boil once the perpetrator of Faust’s death is established and the race for justice moves into full swing. Though a newcomer to the mystery genre, Kumari establishes herself here as a writer with ingenuity. She presents a satisfying crime tale with appealing characters who embody vivid and unique cultural perspectives. Delivering a smoothly written, impressive series opener, the author is a new mystery writer to watch.

A polished, confident whodunit brimming with personality and the right amount of intrigue and mayhem.