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Sleuth digs into family dirt in latest mystery

“Where the Bones Are Buried,” by Jeanne Matthews

My favorite movies — aside from good old-fashioned musicals — are capers that span a continent or two on the way to their denouement. The bookish equivalent can be found in Renton author Jeanne Matthews’ international mystery series featuring Dinah Pelerin.

Dinah is a globetrotting anthropologist/sleuth who manages to hang onto some of the down-home characteristics of her Georgia upbringing. Dinah not only studies old bones, but also has a few skeletons in the dysfunctional family closet – all of which add up to complicated plots in exotic locales, often with a stray family member in tow.

To kick off 2015 right, there’s a brand new book in the series. “Where the Bones Are Buried” is set in Berlin, where Dinah has just moved in with her Norwegian boyfriend Thor, and is preparing for her new job teaching Native American cultures at a local university.

But then her mother, Swan, shows up at the airport with Margaret – the two women share the dubious distinction of being sequential ex-wives of Cleon, a charming but altogether unprincipled attorney who met his demise a few years back. (That story is told in “Bones of Contention,” the first book in the series).

Now Swan and Margaret, in want of money, have cooked up a scheme to blackmail a former partner of their dead ex. It involves attending a Berlin powwow where Germans dress up like Indians and adopt Indians names – as a Seminole, Swan has wangled a special invitation. But in pulling off this sting the two ex-wives may expose a dirty little secret about a big stash of ill-gotten gains that Cleon left in a Panamanian bank account in Dinah’s care.

On the evening of the powwow, Swan’s plans go awry when a man is found killed – and scalped – with Swan’s DNA on the corpse.

Dinah can’t be sure of her mom’s professions of innocence – from an early age, she has known of Swan’s propensity for dissembling. On the other hand, Dinah now finds herself in the uncomfortable position of avoiding a full disclosure of the truth to Thor.

She sets out to try to clear her mother’s name with the hope that her investigation may exorcise some of her own internal demons. Besides, her anthropological expertise may shed light on some of the skullduggery engaged in by the group that organized the powwow.

Dinah crisscrosses Berlin, from parks and restaurants to old monuments and new shopping centers. The author clearly had a ball doing research for this book, and it shows in the detailed descriptions of settings and cuisine.

Other colorful characters make appearances and throw monkey wrenches into the works – the story has enough red herrings and subplots to keep the reader puzzling over details for a good long while. But Matthews manages to knit all of the loose ends back together by book’s end, with a stunning development or two that ensure there will be new complications the next time Dinah Pelerin sets out to solve a mystery.

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