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Book Review: Ask the Dead by Joyce Yarrow

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“Fear not the path of truth for the lack of people walking on it,” is a proverb quoted by Robert F. Kennedy in his last speech.  There may be more on that road less traveled than you think.  Maybe those travelers are not the lonely wayfarers they think they are. Maybe they just need to look over their own shoulders.

About the time this reviewer decided to become a self proclaimed “apolitical inactivist,” I took an online test to determine my political preferences.  The result was, “You want so little government in your life, you’re an anarchist.”  Jo Epstein, private investigator, says that Washington Square is the “place where, if you stay alert, you just might see the meaning of life unfold before your eyes, one of the few places I know where it seems that nothing is left to chance.”  Next time I’m in New York……

A young African-American man named Gabriel Johnson who has a bi-racial girl friend sells his black and white photography on the street.  A wealthy philanthropist sets up a rehab center for the needy.  A Beverly Hills couple laments the disappearance of their daughter. A dead, nude body languishes in a bathtub — was it suicide? Our heroine places second at a poetry slam, and the headlines read, “P.I. Finds Body in Missing Social Worker’s Apt.”

At this point in Ask the Dead, author Joyce Yarrow has squeezed more toothpaste out of the tube than a conference room full of dentists can consume.  This is the maiden voyage of our new favorite heroine, Jewish poet private investigator, Jo Epstein, in what looks to be an exciting, thought provoking, and page turning series of novels.  Can she stay retired and enjoy working at a news stand in NYC?  Can she live long enough to decide?

Our first experience with Epstein was actually the second book in the series, The Last Matryoshka, which debuts in November 2010.  There’s enough information on Ms. Epstein in either book to decide we like her and in both books, enough to start a fan club.  We also meet and get to know family members, friends, ex-friends, and a sordid array of the usual suspects.  Their paths all converge in a labyrinthine plot worthy of David Lynch.

One of my favorite characters is the anarchist, Gloria Kelly.  In another life I would have called her a “bleeding heart, liberal, do-gooder.” Now, maybe she just earns the description of an “altruistic felon,” but an interesting one for sure!  She’s also Epstein’s best old ex-friend to whom Epstein maybe owes a favor?  Perhaps she’ll be heard from again in what promises to be a much anticipated series of timely novels laced with current events.  There’s plenty of time to read Ask the Dead before November!


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