Relative Danger by June Shaw
It's not easy being a relative ... adolescents would agree, in-laws would agree, and sometimes parents and grandparents even agree. June Shaw has written a mystery novel that involves the intricacies of three generations, three individuals, daughter, father and grandmother, coming together to celebrate a life event: high school graduation.
There is no mother in the picture; Nancy died several years before her daughter Kat reached high school age. Kat's dad, Roger, is still living a subdued life as a widower, and is now foreseeing what his home will be like when his daughter goes off to college. Roger's widowed mother, Cealie, comes to town to catch up with her son and granddaughter between her travels as a single woman who is finding herself.
When Cealie realizes that her granddaughter has stopped attending classes and may miss final exams, and is considering not attending the graduation ceremony at all, she is stunned. Cealie had made a death-bed promise to her daughter-in-law Nancy that she would see her granddaughter graduate, and up until now, Kat had been on the way to do so with honors and scholarships. It doesn't take long for Cealie to find out that there has been a death at the high school, and that Kat seems deeply affected by the circumstances of the young custodian's death, and preoccupied with and perhaps afraid of who might have caused that death.
Cealie struggles with her maternal feelings of protective love for both her son and granddaughter and her recent decision to live life as a single, independent woman. But to help return her granddaughter's confidence and scholarship, Cealie enters the high school as a substitute teacher. She finds a vastly different setting in the large crowded school, recognizing that clothing and manners have changed both students and faculty from her recollections of teaching in a small private school decades earlier. She observes the cold structure, the anger and rudeness, the frustration and resignation of senior staff and the hustle and bustle of a teacher's full day. She experiences attacks first on herself and then on another teacher; she also hears of the shooting death of a substitute teacher like herself, and determines to help the police find the person responsible for these acts in their effort to keep her granddaughter and other students safe.
June Shaw's characters are richly developed, whether they are main characters or secondary. Her description of physical attributes is clear, as is the point of view of a grandmother finding her way into her granddaughter's world. Cealie's relationship with her son hovers between sheltering him from what she sees happening and bolstering his own strength and involvement in Kat's life. She talks to herself, and talks to her houseplant, her beloved cactus named Minnie, trying to sort out the sketchy line she is walking. Her mixed messages, both those received and sent, emotionally resonate with readers who share the same family role.
Cealie's life is further complicated by the presence of her former lover, Gil, a restauranteur with a Cajun flare whom Cealie still loves but does not want to settle down with. This tension creates another layer of mystery in this story, and Shaw brings all of the characters into it within their established roles. And yet, with her family around her, Cealie still feels alone in dealing with the worry and angst, unwilling to share her concerns with Gil or with her son. And she feels that she must re-enter the dreaded building to determine how the death occurred, and who the responsible person is.
June Shaw's mystery remains unsolved until the very end, and her story engages the reader's feelings, no matter what the role of the reader in the family may be. Five Stars for Shaw's Relative Danger!