Kelly Pruett isn’t your average private investigator. Although a pro at serving divorce papers and conducting the occasional stake-out with the only man in her life — her sleepy basset hound, Floyd — by her side, she’s never worked an entire investigation, especially not one that involves murder. She’s a rookie who had inherited her father’s private investigation business after he died the year before. 

In debut author Mary Keliikoa’s Derailed: A P.I. Kelly Pruett Mystery (Epicenter Press), Kelly tests the bounds of both her comfort zone and her normal mom duties, determined to solve the case that accidentally lands in her lap.

Kelly’s ex-husband, Jeff, tells her, “Mothering our daughter should be your priority. And the safest place is at home.” Jeff’s mother, Arlene, who lives next door to Kelly, can’t agree more. After all, her deaf eight-year-old daughter Mitzi — “Ladybug” to Kelly — needs her. But after Kelly’s mother died when she was young, she and her dad had become the “Two Musketeers.” Investigating is in her blood. Kelly loves puzzles, and what better puzzle is there to solve than a homicide? 

FOLLOWING IN HER FATHER’S FOOTSTEPS

True, she didn’t intend to jump right into a murder investigation, but when a grieving mother who knew her dad begs Kelly to investigate her daughter’s death, how could she turn her away? Process serving, court document searches, and the occasional tedious stakeout had made up most of her 1500 hours of P.I. experience. Her dad had planned to train her in casework later, but then he died. 

Now she connects with her father by brushing her fingertips across his bedroom door. Since he hadn’t yet trained her to handle a hardcore investigation, she constantly asks herself WWDD — what would Dad do? And process-serving hadn’t prepared her for the grizzly scene of a murdered corpse.

Not only does Kelly want to make her dad proud, but she also finds that investigating a murder gives her life a purpose outside of motherhood, and like her dad, she’s a pitbull of a private eye. She hates to admit that her ex is right in one regard — her dad chose work over everything else. But Kelly knows her daughter is her priority. Couldn’t her P.I. work be a close second? 

“Since the divorce and the death of my father, I had wondered what would inspire me and give my life a different purpose. Taking on new and different investigative cases could be the answer. One purpose I wasn’t going to give up was being a parent.”

SELF-DOUBT, PERSONAL FULFILLMENT AND PARENTING

As the investigation takes her into the bizarre world of Portland’s BDSM subculture, it seems everyone she interviews loves to lie, and to top it off, a hooded attacker is now stalking her. More than once, Kelly considers whether being a real P.I. is what she really wants. Ironically, she gets her answer when a suspect hits her in the face with a frying pan, and she discovers she’s tougher than she thought. 

“Truthfully, I’d learned a lot about being a P.I. during the case. I’d made some mistakes. In not looking at everyone as a suspect, I almost got killed. Next time I’d do better. And there would be a next time … the fact I’d picked myself up and fought meant I had what it took to do this job.”

Keliikoa’s Kelly Pruett takes the struggle between motherhood and personal fulfillment to the edge of a cliff, daring one to jump. This almost-vulnerable P.I. is the embodiment of the difficult choices a working mom must make and the guilt that is sure to follow. How long should a woman play it safe before she takes a leap? 

A former legal secretary, Keliikoa uses the legal system as a lens to discover what makes people tick. From the first petition filed to preparation for trial, she takes legal maneuvering to a new level as her characters overcome obstacles to find meaning and purpose in a crazy world.

Fans of independent, capable women, like Sue Grafton’s gritty P.I. Kinsey Millhone, will love cheering Kelly on as she juggles motherhood and a murder investigation. As both women agree, dinner can’t get any better than peanut butter on a spoon. Maybe women can have it all.

Learn more about Keliikoa on her BookTrib author profile page.

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Mary Keliikoa is a former legal secretary, a career where she had a front-row seat on the legal maneuverings that took place every day, from the first documents being run to the courthouse to preparing for trial. She discovered how the legal system acts as a lens by which to see what makes people tick, and this experience, as well as her love of the legal process, oriented her to writing mystery and suspense. When she’s not writing, Mary enjoys spending time in Hawaii at her vacation home, cooking, golfing, playing with her grandchildren, and playing ukulele and piano. She lives in Washington with her husband and two fur-kids.