Watch Her (Hester Thursby Mystery #3) by Edwin Hill
Publication Date: December 29th, 2020
Rating: 4 Stars
I’ve read a lot of twisted family drama reads in my time, but nothing that quite compares to this outsider’s view. None of the family members actually play a narrating part in Hill’s newest edition to the Hester Thursby Mystery Series, my first foray into this series. Instead, we are graced with “associate” family member Maxine, Police Sargent Angela, librarian Hester and college student Barret. Odd grouping, right? I thought so too, but it made for an insatiable story as they all tied together.
The dynamic between the three women, Hester, Maxine and Angela, and their respective roles in the story worked so well together with Barrett providing the glue that tied all these women to the plot anchoring this story, one surrounding a family-owned for-profit college. As a first-time reader of a book in this series, I thought Watch Her read adequately well as a standalone. There is certainly some background and history between our lead women but nothing that detracting from the wholly encompassing twists and turns encountered within. Hill expertly navigates through the complexities of this mystery as readers crawl toward an explosive ending.
*Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by the publisher. All opinions are my own.
An interview with EDWIN HILL
- This is the third installment of the Hester Thursby series. How has Hester evolved from the beginning of Book 1 to now?
I like to think that she’s grown (and grown up) a bit! When we first meet Hester Thursby in “Little Comfort,” she’s recently been saddled with her 3-year-old niece, Kate, and has decidedly mixed feelings about raising someone else’s child. That ambivalence strains her relationship with her long-time boyfriend, Morgan Maguire. The traumatic events of “Little Comfort” leave Hester emotionally scarred. She carries those scars into the second novel in the series, “The Missing Ones,” and those scars almost break her relationship with Morgan.
“Watch Her” picks up a year-and-half later. As a couple, Hester and Morgan have healed stronger than they were before, and they’ve both committed to raising Kate as full-time caretakers. They’ve also continued to expand their found family. Many of the recurring characters in the series, including fan-favorites Angela White and Jamie Williams (and Waffles, of course) make appearances in this book.
- Are there any challenges you’ve come across as a male author writing a female-led series? How have you overcome those challenges?
I always say that writing is a series of problem-solving exercises, and this would be one of those exercises! Anytime you write a character who’s removed from your own experiences, you have to make sure you’re asking the right questions and talking to people who have had those experiences to test your assumptions. The job of the fiction writer is to inhabit characters and represent them as fully realized and three-dimensional. You wouldn’t want to read a novel about me (too boring!), so all my characters have to be developed through my imagination. Hester experiences all sorts of things that I’ll never experience — she’s a woman; she’s 12 years younger than I am; she has a child; she works as a librarian; she’s estranged from her mother; she’s very short — and my goal is to make those experiences seem authentic to the reader. I talk to lots of people and have a group of reviewers look at drafts of novels before they go to my editor to flag anything that seems off. Ultimately, though, it’s up to me and whether I can provide that connection for the reader.
While Hester and Morgan are the central characters in the novels, all of the Hester Thursby novels are told from multiple points of view, so this challenge doesn’t stop with Hester!
- The book focuses on gender dynamics between the 1990s and 2010s. Can you talk a bit about writing characters that explore and defy stereotypes?
Each of my books explores different aspects of gender and sexuality. Hester struggles against submitting to gender norms. I also bring queer-identified characters into the novels. Angela White is one of the recurring characters in the series. She is a detective in the Boston Police Department and lives with her wife, Cary, and Cary’s son in Dorchester. Angela had a small role in “Little Comfort” and a somewhat larger role in “The Missing Ones,” but I wanted to bring her into the forefront of “Watch Her” and to fully explore her work and home life. For me, she’s a standout in this book.
- Can you speak a bit to your connection with the Boston area and why you’ve set the series there?
I grew up in Massachusetts, and after a few years in California, have lived here for the past two decades. One of things I like about Boston and New England is that the landscape offers a lot of variety in a relatively compact area, which is perfect for writing. Hester and Morgan live in Somerville, where, not coincidentally, I lived when I first started the series. Each of the books is set in Somerville and in other picturesque locations — Beacon Hill and the Lakes District of New Hampshire for “Little Comfort”; an island off the coast of Maine for “The Missing Ones”; and Jamaica Plain for “Watch Her.” I’ve also enjoyed playing with the weather — something that also varies in New England. “Little Comfort” is set in the dead of winter. “The Missing Ones” is set in the autumn, and “Watch Her” is set in spring.
- The book centers around the fictional for-profit Prescott University. Did you do any sort of research to help accurately depict the world of higher education?
My research for this book was three-fold. I worked in higher ed publishing for many years and saw some of the ins and outs of academia in that job. For-profit schools differ from traditional schools in that they report to a board of directors that expects a return on their investment. I didn’t want Prescott University or Maxine Pawlikowski, the character who serves as the general manager of the school in the book, to be over-the-top corrupt, so I tried to base the college on good educational principles, even if some of the characters wind up making poor decisions. I also read up on for-profit colleges that have failed or been shut down in the past two decades like Corinthian Colleges. I wanted to understand what could make a seemingly thriving business go belly up and what impact that had on the students enrolled at those schools. What really helped me most, though, was graduating during a recession in the early ’90s. I had a series of terrible, terrible temp jobs that provided plenty of fodder for any poorly run business. When I wanted to show something going badly at Prescott University, I consulted my vast database of personal experiences!