“Brutality,” “Identity,” “Loyalty,” “Duplicity.” All great words -- and all great titles of mysteries written by Ingrid Thoft.
“Loyalty,” Thoft’s first foray into the mystery genre, introduces us to Josefina (call me “Fina”) Ludlow, the private investigator in her family’s Boston law firm, Ludlow and Associates. Fina’s life is complicated. She works for her father, Carl, the firm’s head, and with her three brothers, all lawyers. Fina is a law school drop-out, much to her father’s chagrin. But the one thing the four siblings have in common is how Carl treats them all. (Hint: not well.) The firm specializes in the kind of personal litigation that garners large cash settlements, snarky comments from other lawyers, and lots of lovely publicity. Fina likens them to high-priced ambulance chasers. Her mother, Elaine, is also a royal pain in the neck, but the extended family consisting of sisters-in-law and nieces and nephews are treasured by Fina.
Then one of Fina’s sisters-in-law goes missing. She is the wife of Rand, the oldest brother, and mother of teenage daughter Haley. Rand, by the way, turns out to be the kind of sleaze you love to hate. Carl wants the disappearance handled quietly and without the police. Fina is desperate to find Rand’s missing wife, and in the process gets bones broken, eyes blackened, but quite a few good punches in herself. At first the plot seems very straight-forward – but keep reading! The more Fina gets into the case the more dirt she digs up, and then her family loyalty is really tested in many directions. To Fina’s great credit, she doesn’t care about anything except the truth.
Now, here comes the big twist. Thoft also uses her mysteries as vehicles to address serious social issues. That these issues need to come out into the open is without question. But, often they are too emotional for many people to be faced. The traditional news presentations or true personal stories just make these issues too heart-wrenching for many of us. By weaving the issues into the body of the mystery novel, Thoft adds another dimension to the genre that is quite unique, while at the same time raising public awareness. I am not the only one to notice this, as Thoft has won the Shamus Award for Best P.I Novel.
Quickly, missing turns to murder, confidential informants turn into enemies, and while Fina is bringing a killer is to justice, she is horrified by the levels of Haley’s involvement in her case. Final resolution on one front, however, does not end the story. As Thoft writes on, more family drama intertwines with Fina’s jobs.
A couple of months after at least partial “Fina justice” in the family drama has been served, another case comes across her desk. In “Identity” Renata Sanchez, a single mother via IVF, wants the firm to engage in a lawsuit against the sperm bank she used to get pregnant. Although complete confidentiality was agreed upon at the time of the original contract, Sanchez now wants the identity of her daughter Rosie’s sperm donor. Most lawyers would be put off by this, but Carl sees great publicity potential as well as financial reward in suing the cryobank. Finding the donor’s identity was not actually that challenging for Fina (I did tell you she is a great PI) but almost immediately after the donor’s name is made public – he turns up dead.
Although Fina didn’t much want to deal with murder again, she cannot back away from something that she started. Events unfold with Thoft’s signature style of complex legal, family and social difficulties until, again, a solution is found. I have to note that while the social and legal implications of cryobanks and sperm donation have been factually written about by many investigative reporters; Thoft takes the facts and weaves a nice, complex story for us.
Following quickly is another medical mystery for Fina. This time it involves head injuries from sports. This has become a major issue at all levels, and like Thoft’s other books, “Brutality” tells a great story based on real medical disputes.
A former college soccer player, Liz Barone, is assaulted in her home and left in a coma. Liz’s mother hires Fina to find the attacker. This starts as an out-of-the–office case for Fina, until she finds that Liz was suing her alma mater for ignoring the head injuries she incurred while playing. Instead, she was encouraged to go back out on the playing field. Cognitive decline has resulted and Liz wants someone to pay. Did the assault come because of the suit or was there another motive?
The original attorney Liz engaged was quickly fired by Liz’s mom after Fina prevails upon Carl to take the case: more money, more publicity for the firm. It looks so simple, until Fina starts to peel back the layers of medical deceit, sports promoter exploitation, and illicit drugs. Family issues are intertwined again, and we begin to gain more insight into the family dynamics, some of which are quite toxic.
Just recently, Thoft has published “Duplicity.” Carl’s once-girlfriend Ceci Renard hires Ludlow and Associates to help rescue her daughter. Ceci believes that a new church brainwashed her daughter, in preparation to taking her money. The church, Covenant Rising, has a dynamic pastor with a beautiful wife. These fine, holy folks have amazing luxury cars, beautiful homes, and an apparently endless supply of money. This is one part of Fina’s investigation. The other part has her tripping over a murder linked to the church and some unsavory situations within her own family.
Fina comes through, but at a gigantic cost. Bones eventually heal, lawsuits get settled, but the fabric of the family may be rent beyond repair.
I really cannot wait until the next book in this series comes out. My only complaint is that Thoft’s books are showing up only once a year! I intend to mention this to her when we speak; and I will have that chance because (and you are reading it here first!) I have it on very good authority that she will be one of the speakers this summer at the Monadnock Summer Lyceum. So, start reading, prepare your insightful questions for when you hear her speak, and be ready for some grand reading entertainment!
Elaine Holden of Peterborough is a nationally recognized expert in the diagnosis and treatment of dyslexia. She is the director of The Reading Foundation and senior lecturer at Rivier College Graduate School of Education.