Stranger Room

Stranger Room
An Ike Schwartz Mystery!

Buy it now from Ramsay Books!

Frederick Ramsay. Poisoned Pen, $24.95 (268p) ISBN 978-1-59058-535-1
Two locked-room murders, nearly 150 years apart, confound Sheriff Ike Schwartz of Picketsville, Va., in Ramsay’s suspenseful fourth regional mystery (after 2007’s Buffalo Mountain). Schwartz discovers that both crimes, with sinister undertones of Poe, occurred at the antebellum-era Lydell mansion. The estate’s owner, Jonathan Lydell IV, is distraught to find his renovated “stranger room” (a guest room with its own outside entrance) soiled by death and the intrusion of law enforcement. While Schwartz and acting deputy Karl Hedrick (on loan from the FBI) contend with Lydell’s condescension and racism, they’re soon distracted by a growing meth epidemic, vandalism and even another death in Picketsville. Ramsay skillfully weaves historical fact into his story, all the while blending brisk action with excellent characterization. Schwartz has matured throughout the series, and readers will eagerly await his next adventure. (Aug.) -Publishers Weekly

Just when you think you have seen it all in mystery topics, one comes along that has a totally new twist. The “Stranger Room” is that mystery. It is murder, intrigue, southern genteel and bigotry at its best. Once I picked up the book to read, I had a hard time putting it down. It is the fourth book by the talented author and after reading this story, I would be very interested in reading his other books.

The first question that comes to mind when you see the title and the description of the book is, what is a stranger room? A stranger room is a guest room used centuries ago that is not connected to the house. They were built to keep out unsavory guests. The stranger room in this book was not attached to the house and had no windows. The only access was through one door.

The story starts 150-years ago when a guest staying in the Lydell family stranger room is murdered with the door closed and locked on the inside. The mystery was never solved and fell into the background of the Civil War. The town is completely mystified 150-years later when another guest is murdered in the same stranger room with the door locked from the inside. As Sheriff Ike Schwartz and FBI agent Karl Hedrick work to solve the mystery they encounter obstacles, more mysteries and death. The completely arrogant elderly Jonathon Lydell III lives for his family history and connections and provides obstacles at every turn. He is related to the Virginia Lees (both Light Horse Harry and Robert E. Lee) and does not let anyone forget it.

Sheriff Ike Schwartz is Jewish and FBI agent Karl Hedrick is African American. They are very frustrated throughout the story as they continually run into racist and prejudice behavior. The “Stranger Room” also has a cast of secondary characters that make the story very interesting. These well-developed characters include Ike s girlfriend, Callend College’s President, Ruth, Karl’s Deputy Girlfriend, Sam, police dispatcher Essie Falco who physically reminds everyone of Dolly Parton and the whole Sunderlin clan. The LeBrun clan in the story is part of a nasty set of characters that give the town of Picketsville a run for its money.

I found this well-written book to be a fast-paced mystery with surprising twists and turns. It completely held my attention and kept me on my toes right to the end. I would highly recommend “Stranger Room” to mystery lovers.
- Gale, Cengage Learning MIDWEST BOOK REVIEW

In 1864, The Staunton Spectator newspaper reported that a traveler Mister Franklin Brian was found murdered in the stranger room attached to the Bolton home of Captain Jonathan Lydell, Now a century and half later, elderly Jonathan Lydell IV informs the local sheriff department that someone murdered guest Anton Grotz in his restored antebellum mansion’s stranger room with the key inside sealing shut the room.

Picketsville, Virginia Sheriff Ike Schwartz with the able help of FBI loaner acting deputy Karl Hendrick investigates the apparent modern day locked room homicide; they find a connection to the cold case Civil War era killing and eerily Poe. As they dig deeper while working other crimes, Jonathan displays his outrage that the cops are turning his estate into a crime scene as he overtly displays his racism and his superiority, but fails to deter Ike or Karl from performing their job.

Using the STRANGER ROOM historical concept of a place attached yet totally separated from a house as the basis for a contemporary locked room police procedural, Frederick Ramsay provides a fabulous investigative tale. The story line is fast-paced from the moment Jonathan and his bed and breakfast employee Mrs. Antonelli fail to rouse the guest and never slows down. The cast is solid especially the “Old Virginian” Jonathan with his don’t call me Jon instead call me Mr. attitude. Fans will appreciate this strong regional police procedural (see SECRETS and BUFFALO MOUNTAIN for Ike’s previous Virginia cases).

-Harriet Klausner

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