The enigmatic title The Sleeping Lady (She Writes Press), conjures a feeling of mystery and excitement, an impression that only intensifies after opening the book. The namesake of The Sleeping Lady is the hazy outline of Mount Tamalpais. This summit helps frame the skyline over small towns north of San Francisco and passively overlooks the dubious and sometimes nefarious interactions of its inhabitants. It is here we first meet all the suspects in Bonnie Monte’s novel–suspects introduced to us before Thalia’s murder.
Thalia Holcombe insists on meeting with her life-long friend and business partner, Rae Sullivan, after returning to the San Francisco Bay area from a buying trip. These two women in their mid-thirties co-own and manage Le Jardin, a home and garden shop selling eclectic items, including many vintage pieces acquired in France. Thalia shares with Rae that she received a note threatening blackmail about an affair she is having with her lover who lives in Paris, Etienne Duchamp.
Awhile later, Thalia conveniently hosts a party for her husband while Etienne, his wife, teenage son and two business associates just happen to be in the San Francisco Bay area. Rae and her husband, Peter, attend the party where Rae meets this Paris faction. The following day, Thalia tells Rae that she discovered another blackmail note left on the windshield of her car during the party. This note instructs her to leave money at Golden Gate Park at a particular time and place. Despite Rae’s insistence that Thalia inform the police, Thalia ventures out to Golden Gate Park alone determined to uncover her blackmailer. The following evening when Rae finds Thalia’s body in that park, she begins her quest to help the police find the murderer.
Initially, the police investigate the murder by exploring alibis and motives, including Rae’s. Frustrated, Rae begins to believe the police are ineffective, a feeling that fuels her determination to exact vengeance by personally bringing Thalia’s murderer to justice. Rae enlists the aid of Etienne’s teenage son who becomes a valuable ally to her as she attempts to unmask the motive of Marcel, one of Etienne’s business associates and her primary suspect. Thalia’s stepbrother, Luc who lives in France, also joins Rae in her pursuit for the truth about the murder.
Rae’s amateur detective abilities take her far and wide. She travels from a San Francisco hotel bathtub while standing fully clothed in two inches of water to flea markets in Paris. From there, she ends up in a warehouse on the waterfront in Marseille, then back to California and her beloved mountain where she finally finds answers. In the end, Rae gains new found confidence and life direction.
The crisp writing, particularly vivid the descriptions of sites, tastes and sounds, brings this story to life. The rapidly evolving plot skillfully unfolds as Rae uncovers more information and gradually realizes that people aren’t who they seem to be. Each page holds new revelations, large and small. Most dramatically, Rae personally evolves throughout the plot. Monte avoids predictable endings for her major characters making the plot’s resolution surprisingly fresh.
With a cast of believable and likable individuals and with clues to the murderer’s identity speckled throughout, Monte’s first novel leaves the reader wanting more from this author.
The Sleeping Lady is now available.
About Bonnie Monte
Bonnie grew up in Brooklyn in the 1950s and 60s, the height of the baby boom. Kids were everywhere, and life was idyllic. Being the child of two mystery-loving parents helped shape her lifelong love of the genre. Her attorney dad was an avid reader of whodunits and especially loved locked-room puzzles. Her schoolteacher mom was a fan of detective series on TV. She’s always been drawn to cozy mysteries because all the gore takes place “offstage.” As someone astutely remarked, in a cozy mystery someone is killed but no one gets hurt.
After graduating from Brooklyn College, she moved to northern California, where she launched her career as an editor and writer. She’s worked at national magazines, edited home and garden books, served as the brand voice for a garden retailer, and written articles on everything from robotic surgery to dog parks. But writing this mystery has definitely been the highlight for her.
She lives with her husband, their rescue dog, and a turtle (long story) not far from their two grown daughters. When not working or spending time with her family, she hikes, gardens, and brushes up on her French skills, which have sadly fallen into disrepair.