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Posted by Barbara Leavy on Jun 28 2014, 6:48 AM
Mitchell Scott Lewis, EVIL IN THE FIRST HOUSE

For those who favor mysteries as puzzles, Mitchell Scott Lewis’s EVIL IN THE FIRST HOUSE will prove very entertaining.  For there are multiple puzzles in the book and puzzles within puzzles.  For example, David Lowell is investigating two definite crimes and third that might prove a crime.  Two of these are likely to be related but how they are is not revealed until the mystery’s end.  Meanwhile, Lowell is being stalked by a hired killer who is intent on killing him.  Why?  Which person in the various situations he is working on wants him out of the way?
 
What sets Lowell apart from most investigators is that he is a skilled astrologer and astrology is for him a way of solving crimes.  Knowing the birth date and time of birth of a person allows him to print out from an elaborate data base a chart that reveals the personality of a person and much of the life history.  He uses this information much as an FBI profiler would use other factors to help describe a criminal.  Some of the characters in EVIL IN THE FIRST HOUSE are not believers in astrology, nor are most of Lewis’s readers likely to be.  But Coleridge once urged that in reading fiction, we should allow ourselves a willing suspension of disbelief.
 
Do not think of Lowell’s charts as one might a daily horoscope found in many newspapers and magazines where one can look under one’s sign Virgo) and get sometimes astonishingly accurate descriptions.  What Lowell looks for is the placement of planets and moons in the heavens when a person was born.  The main plot in the mystery concerns identical twins who for various reasons were separated soon after birth, one raised by his mother, the other by the father from whom she is separated, a renowned surgeon. Now one of the twins, the one raised by his father, is close to death because of a serious kidney disease. Lowell is hired to find the other twin, who can supply a kidney for a transplant.
 
The twins were born fourteen minutes apart, and this proves significant. Here is Lowell explaining this difference. “Kevin has the Moon and twenty-nine degrees fifty-two minuters of Aries. . . . Edward has the Moon at zero degrees Taurus, which adds to the Venus influence. That’s a major difference, isn’t it? The Taurus Moon in Edward’s chart is also in a close square to Venus and Neptune, both at four degrees, creating a right in-sign t-square resolving in the 6th house of health, which in this chart is also ruled by Venus.” Although the twins are identical and share their DNA, Edward’s situation, explained by astrology, means that he will have health problems not shared by Kevin. Lewis has clearly done some research revealing that even identical twins are not completely identical. His readers will find information about twinship very interesting.
 
Lewis is judicious.  There are few passages like this in EVIL IN THE FIRST HOUSE and understanding such details is not essential to the reader’s attempts to unravel the puzzles that comprise the mystery, even if these details they are of critical importance to Lowell and his creator, Lewis. Writers whose plots involve FBI profiling do not take readers through the details of compiling the profile.  Lewis’s few detailed descriptions of the heavens lends his story validity—again, if the reader suspends disbelief.
 
All mysteries must supply motives for crimes, or admit that the motive is not fully knowable (as is the case in many contemporary crime novels).  In EVIL IN THE FIRST HOUSE, the motives are—as in an Agatha Christie mystery—straightforward and whodunit prevails over whydunit.  The multiplicity of puzzles, however, will keep readers who relish puzzles as the essence of crime fiction turning pages.
 
 
 
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