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Thursday, June 3, 2004 11:47 am

A capital crime in the capital city

Dispatch to Death By Martha Miller New Victoria Publishers, 222 pages, 2003, $12.95

In her last book, Nine Nights on the Windy Tree, Martha Miller introduced Bertha Brannon, a Springfield lawyer who finds herself involved in a mystery. It was a good read, and I was looking forward to meeting Brannon once again in Miller's new book, Dispatch to Death.

Miller, who lives in Springfield, uses the capital city as a backdrop, and it's fun following her new heroine, taxicab driver Trudy Thomas, as she winds her way around the city, driving a lavender cab.

I admit to being a bit disappointed when I realized this new book was not the next Bertha Brannon mystery, but I don't think I'm giving away any plot twists by mentioning that Brannon does make an appearance late in this new one. And the fact is, Trudy is a character we like immediately.

Trudy is a single lesbianin her forties, and we quickly become wrapped up in her life. Miller writes such full-blooded characters that there's not a false note in the book. Miller has created a real page-turner with this offering.

It begins with Trudy picking up a customer in her cab on a rainy day. The passenger, a beautiful woman from Chicago, becomes the centerpiece of the murder mystery that follows. Trudy finds herself in the wrong place at the wrong time, sometimes because she follows her heart more than she does her brains, resulting in injury at one point and a stint in a jail cell at another.

Miller has surrounded Trudy with a big cast of characters -- family, neighbors, co-workers, ex-girlfriends -- and she has left plenty of room for future books involving Trudy and company. Like many authors, Miller writes well-plotted mysteries with memorable characters. What makes her books a bit different from others in the genre is the heart that comes through. It's a nice touch.

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