Librarians always like it when they find librarians in novels. In the 1990s they enjoyed a series of mysteries set in Bellehaven, Washington, where Michigan-born Wilhelmina Zukas, known as Helma, works at the reference desk in the public library. The series began in 1994 with Miss Zukas and the Library Murders in which she and her friend Ruth Winthrop, an artist with a flair for the dramatic in her dress and work, seek the villain who left a dead body in the book stacks. Seven books followed, in which Helma answers reference questions, struggles with a head-strong library director (Ms Moon who practice feng shui), deals with her mother (who moves to Bellehaven to be with her daughter), adopts an unfriendly cat, enjoys the outdoor life, repels the advances of prospective boyfriends (including the chief of police Wayne Gallant), and solves mysteries. The last book was Miss Zukas Shelves the Evidence in 2001.
I just finished reading Miss Zukas in Death's Shadow, the seventh of the eight books. Helma is sentenced to community service at a homeless shelter after refusing to pay the fine for a traffic violation that she contests. Of course, someone is shot to death the first night she is there, and it turns out to be the new member of the library board, the one with whom Helma had a public argument about censorship. Among the clues is a crushed bag of Nutter Butter cookies. First amendment rights are violated during the investigation, as the local supermarket gives the police a list of every customer who bought Nutter Butters. Ruth and other citizens are subsequently questioned, and Helma risks her life to find the killer.
Miss Zukas fans, who have been waiting five years for another case from Bellehaven, have good news. All the books are being republished in 2006 and 2007 and a new title Bookmarked to Die is being published in June 2006. The news and an article by Jo Dereske about her last five years can be found at her website. Libraries that missed getting the books before now have another chance.
Dereske, Jo. Miss Zukas in Death's Shadow. New York: Avon Books, 1999. ISBN 0380804727