Like bindweed climbing, twisting around, and choking flowers, jealousy strangles lives in the two mystery novellas forming the second book of Delia C. Pitts’ Ross Agency Series. PRACTICE THE JEALOUS ARTS is a perfect title to encompass these tales about the dangers of envy, jealousy, unfaithfulness, and the perfection of arts including murder.
Once again, Harlem private detectives Shelby Rook — an Iraq War vet — and Sabrina (Brina) Ross team to untangle crimes of passion. Simultaneously, passion is constantly on Rook’s mind as he pursues an uncertain love relationship with Brina. In Poetic License they search for the missing manuscript of the famous poet Daro whose erotic verse and onstage sexual magnetism have made Daro and her publisher husband, Anthony Barnett, wealthy. Telling Rook that the secret of her success is practice, Daro says: “Poetry is a jealous art” that “demands constant attention.”
The mystery of Daro’s missing work intertwines with the puzzling deaths of staff at the elite Harlem Select School, a private academy to which the Barnett’s make major donations. In both novellas, Rook discovers that first impressions may mislead. Harlem Select has not been select enough in its hiring. White-haired, grandmotherly algebra teacher Edwina Worthy is dead at her classroom desk when Poetic License opens. As Rook soon learns, Edwina was a Ponzi scheme artist who bilked staff, and anyone connected to Harlem Select, of their savings.
The second story, Watermark’d, begins with Rook and Brina receiving an assignment promising quiet, countryside romance. Long-ago family friend Kelvin Nix, who lives in a rural New York compound with his four adult daughters, needs help with an unspecified problem. Romance flees when they learn that Nix — a famous shoemaker who has raised his craft to an art — thinks someone is plotting his death. Nix isn’t the loving father that Rook and Brina expect. He’s a put-down artist who raises heat (is Kelvin a pun?) by sharply insulting all around him, including his artist daughters whose work he belittles. He’s a tyrant who controls and cripples their lives.
Mystery novelist Delia C. Pitts is masterful at building character, setting, tension, and plot twists. She also turns phrases to perfection such as when Brina becomes jealous of Nix’s beautiful, man-hungry daughters flirting with Rook. He decides “to keep my mouth buttoned as tight as my shirt.” PRACTICE THE JEALOUS ARTS is a masterful sequel to the first book in her Ross Agency Series
~Alicia Rudnicki for IndieReader