The December award for best mystery goes to Northern Irish writer Jo Bannister for her second installment in the Brodie Farrell mysteries, True Witness. In the small English seaside town of Dimmock, single mom Brodie Farrell operates "Looking for Something?" a search service designed to help folks find missing people or objects. Brodie's young daughter is spending the night with Daniel Hood, a close family friend and amateur astronomer. Together, they intend to use his telescope to view the rings of Saturn. Instead, Daniel witnesses a brutal beating, and despite his best efforts at lifesaving, the victim dies. The case bears marked similarities to the decade-old unsolved serial killings of three boys; a local sheep rancher is the chief suspect, but the evidence has been inconclusive and insufficient to indict. Daniel Hood is the best hope of the police with respect to this most recent killing, but when he looks at the mug books, he is unable to make a positive identification. Refusing to budge under intense pressure from a belligerent policeman and the townspeople of Dimmock, Daniel Hood becomes a marked man. When his house is set afire, Daniel disappears, and Brodie Farrell is drawn deeply into a murder mystery that has been an undercurrent in Dimmock for 10 years or more. Bannister has virtually single-handedly revamped the traditional "English cosy" mystery genre with such disparate elements as pedophilia, police brutality and single motherhood. Her characters, particularly the protagonists, are well-drawn and quirkily engaging. The plotting is excellent, the denouement a surprise. But it is the seamless way in which she weaves characterizations, dialogue and plot development together that best demonstrates her strength as a writer. (Don't miss the series opener, Echoes of Lies.)

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