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Professional genealogist Alexandra Campbell and her sidekick, Briggie, may regret their new assignment for RootSearch, Inc. Asked to research not only a family tree but its psychological overtones, they uncover an old murder that someone is anxious to keep secret. Why? The murderer couldn't possibly be alive. So what is everyone afraid of? Searching for answers, the genealogy sleuths discover more than one surprising detour in the family line of steel magnate William Williams. When another murder occurs, they realize the motive must lie somewhere in the increasingly complicated family tree. Can it tell them the name of the killer? Though struggling with serious matters of the heart, Alex must focus on her work or risk becoming the next victim.
About the Author
G.G. Vandagriff received a bachelor’s degree in international relations from Stanford University and a master’s degree from George Washington University. Besides writing, research, and genealogy, G.G. enjoys traveling and playing with her grandson. She and her husband, David, are the parents of three children and reside in Provo, Utah.
Alex Campbell tried to concentrate on her new case as she drove the final leg from
Kansas City to Chicago. But the closer she got to her destination, the more the
past intruded. Of course, it was winter now, and a quilt of white shrouded the
vast lawns in front of the North Shore mansions. Behind them, Lake Michigan
foamed like a sullen witch’s brew, dark pewter with roiling white caps. Last
August, when everything was green and the lake sparkling, she had been on this
same road, bent on confronting her parents after eighteen years. It had been a
disastrous event, culminating in a murder.
Her life had changed beyond all recognition in the
intervening months. It seemed futile to tell herself she was a new person now,
facing new challenges. These surroundings triggered an automatic response not
only to the horrors of last summer but to adolescent dramas played out long
The self-assured, thirty-six-year-old widow of a world-renowned
photographer wilted away, leaving an insecure, frightened teenager uncertain
about what awaited her in that daunting neo-Georgian mansion in
Winnetka, Illinois, she had once called home. Would it ever be any different?
Her father was dead. She had forgiven her mother and moved on. Hadn’t she?
Her growing anxiety dismayed her. Wasn’t forgiveness enough?
She hadn’t expected these childish fears.
What would Dr. Goodwin say? She wouldn’t ask her. Today’s
interview at the North Side Treatment Center was not about her problems. It was
about Holly Weston, a sixteen-year-old drug addict. She would
focus on the job, not the past. This was the first time she had used her
genealogical skills for the psychiatric hospital, except when she had done a
genogram of her own family while her mother was recovering there. She knew
firsthand how valuable these psychological family trees could be. Dr.
Goodwin was convinced that there was something amiss in young Holly Weston’s
family. A secret.
Though they made her uneasy, massively dysfunctional
families also fascinated Alex. She felt compelled to heal them in order to make
the world safe. Her friend Daniel should understand that.
As she drove up Sheridan Road, the twisting street with its
elite dwellings continued to elicit unwanted memories. Was Holly’s life as
empty as her own had been with an alcoholic mother and a workaholic father?
Were her problems with drugs a cry for help? Or was her acting out due to some
other factor that Alex might uncover in the genogram she was about to begin?
Ancestors could be a blessing or a curse or sometimes both. The sins of the
fathers echoed in unpredictable ways. That’s what genograms helped determine.
What was Holly’s sense of reality? Did it bear any relation to the actual
facts? Or was her whole world some sort of cover-up, as Alex’s had
She kept coming back to herself. Maybe Daniel had been
right, and this was going
to be painful. In the winter light, the undulations of Sheridan Road were full
of shadows, particularly as she drove down into the heavily wooded hollow south
of Highland Park. The thick stand of bare black-brown trees gave her
the sense of a lifeless prison overhung by circling carrion birds. She
shivered. I’m not a child
anymore. I’m a grown-up. I pay taxes.
She didn’t want to think of the conversation with Daniel
last night after the opera. But now every word and nuance replayed itself in
* * *
“Alex, I’m sorry, but I have to tell you, I really don’t
like the sound of this new job of yours,” Daniel said.
They had come back to her crazy, half run-down
apartment building in the artistic community of Westport, Missouri. Necessity
had compelled them to use the fire escape, as the elevator of the Baltimore was
permanently out of order. The mellow strains of a cello sounded through the
wall she shared with her Hispanic neighbor.
“Why not?” Alex demanded, feeling her hackles rise. “It’s a
great opportunity to be near my mother.”
“Why do you want to work at a psych hospital of all places?”
he inquired, his Kelly green eyes probing hers.
“You work at a psych hospital,” she countered.
“I’m a psychologist. You’re a genealogist. And the way you
run your business, that seems to be extremely hazardous to your health. If you
go, you should at least take Briggie.”
Restraining more violent gestures, Alex pushed herself away
from her cherry parson’s table and stood up. “I knew Madame Butterfly was a mistake,” she
said. “Don’t be so melodramatic. There aren’t likely to be any murders in this
case. And my mental health is just fine, Dr. Grinnell.”
He took a deep breath of resignation and ran his fingers
through his ginger-colored hair. “I hear myself and know I’m blowing
it, but when I see these red flags, they’re like triggers . . .”
He stood up, too, and began pacing her small living room
with its white Bauhaus couches facing one another. The silver-gray
walls were hung with chrome-framed
posters—photographs of Florence, Venice, Rome, and Genoa. Stewart’s
Stopping at the square glass coffee table, Daniel picked up
her husband’s book, which invariably exercised some kind of magnetism over him.
Paging through the photo essay on Scotland, he looked as though he were seeking
something definite that continued to elude him.
His preoccupation with Stewart calmed her. Here was a
substantive barrier she could hide behind while the intimacy of the opera
cooled. Daniel was always trying to find a way to relate to her loss.
Over the last year, the pain of Stewart’s sudden death had
at last started to numb. He would always be a presence in her life, but that
presence was starting to be accompanied by a gentle nostalgia punctuated like
lightning with times of searing horror, anger, and despair. Being a
psychologist, Daniel knew that.
As she sat down on the couch, she observed, “Therapists
think they are the modern equivalent of the knight errant.”
“Come on, Alex,” he said, sitting down beside her. His look
was entreating. “You don’t have to be a psychologist to see that you’ve had
more than your share of shocks in the past six years.”
“Look. I’m dealing with it, okay?” Why did she have to feel
so powerfully connected to this solid man with the wrestler’s frame who had
seen her through the worst period of her life? “You don’t really know me. You
always see me as a victim. I’m stronger than you think.”
He took her hands and, looking down at them, smoothed them
with his thumbs. Smiling reluctantly, he said, “I know you’re strong. Dang good
at karate, too. For a yellow belt.”
Unfortunately, he had a very nice smile. “I haven’t had time
for lessons lately,” she said, pulling her hands away. “I’ve been out of town.”
“Yes. I noticed. And now you’re going out of town again.”
“It shouldn’t take long. And I’m really looking forward to
helping these people. You can understand that, can’t you?”
Looking at her steadily, he said, “I know I’m an idiot
sometimes. Don’t shut me out, Alex.”
He had been so endlessly patient with her uncertainties.
Reaching out, she stroked the hair back from his forehead and said with a grin,
“You haven’t ambushed me lately. I’m ready. I got one of those super soaker
“I actually thought the opera was more fitting in this
weather,” he said, returning her grin. “I assaulted you with Puccini.”
“You have the most peculiar ideas of courtship, Daniel
Grinnell. Hari kari? I like squirt guns better.”
* * *
The memory of the last exchange made her smile. She would go
to the treatment center and begin her job. She was a professional, after all.
Half owner of RootSearch, Inc. It was a crazy business, maybe, but it, combined
with the nurturing of her colleague, Brighamina Poulson, and the gospel of
Jesus Christ, had succeeded in rescuing her. She was no longer dangling all
alone in the universe by a single, frayed thread of will.
As Alex pulled into the parking lot of the red brick, black
shuttered hospital, she thought how ordinary and reassuring it looked from the
outside. Kind of like a bank. No one would ever guess that terrible battles
were fought within its walls.
Pulling down her visor mirror, Alex quickly
finger-combed her shoulder-length black ringlets and
applied a little lip gloss to her full mouth. Her eyes, looking tired again,
had purplish smudges beneath them, a common condition due to her Celtic pallor.
In Scotland, where she and Stewart had lived, they had accused her of having
Irish blood, with blue eyes “put in by a smutty finger.”
Dr. Goodwin was expecting her. The swan-necked
Audrey Hepburn look-alike, dressed in a yellow woolen suit with large
black buttons, welcomed her warmly. They had fought wars together.
“It’s good to see you again, Alex. I’m glad you decided to
take this case. How is your mother?”
“Doing well. She’s using a walker because of her MS. But I
don’t think she’s relapsed.”
“Good. If she can keep away from liquor while she’s facing
multiple sclerosis and living alone, she’s an incredible woman.”
“I took this case mainly to be near her. I don’t like her
living alone, either. But she won’t leave that house and come to Kansas City
with me. And that’s where my business is.” She squared her shoulders, feeling
anything but professional in her jeans and black turtleneck. Perhaps she should
have worn her suit, but she had opted for comfort while traveling. “Tell me
about this case.”
The doctor settled behind her desk and toyed with a pencil,
bouncing it by its eraser. The room was meant to be soothing with its
rose-colored walls and prints of begonias. “I’m not really sure what
we’re looking at here. Holly seems to be in a deep state of denial. I can’t get
her mother to open up to me at all, so I don’t know anything about the family
system. That’s crucial in dealing with a sixteen-year-old.”
Dr. Goodwin stuck the pencil incongruously behind her ear.
She was about Alex’s own age and tended to shed her professionalism the longer
they were together. “Whenever I try talking about the family, Mrs. Weston goes
all pruney. I thought we might have more luck if you spoke with Holly’s
grandmother, Mrs. Harrison, who lives in Lake Forest. I just found out about
her because Holly likes her dog.” She sighed deeply. “That’s about all I’ve
been able to get out of her. She’s extremely hostile.”
Alex’s heart quailed, so she sat straighter. She didn’t like
being around angry people, but she would deal with it. “I’d like to visit with
Holly first, I think.”
“Yes. That would probably be a good idea. There’s something
going on in that family. I can sense it. I think Holly may be out of the loop.”
“That sounds familiar. You think the answer lies in this
“Psychological family trees are absolutely vital in a case
like this. As you know from your own experience, the facts can be a big
surprise. The construction that families choose to put on those facts is what
tells us what we really need to work on.”
Oh, yes. Alex had had experience. An uneasy feeling told her
that that experience just might prove more of a trial than a help.
Tangled roots is so appropriate for this book.
by Customer - reviewed on December 03, 2007
This one has topped the other two of G.G. Vandagriffs Alex and Briggie mysteries. When it comes to mystery, genealogy and the Gospel all rolled up into one book G.G. has managed to satisfy our thurst. Will she continue to entertain us with this duo and a new love interest who wants to know more about the Gospel? I certainly hope so.
Wonderful LDS Novel - a Genealogists' Dream!
by Kelly - reviewed on June 21, 2007
I loved this book! I hadn't read any of the author's previous books that contain other stories of the main characters, and I don't feel like that hindered my experience at all. The story line was great (mystery, a love triangle, genealogy, missionary work... it's all there), the characters were fun and real to me, and I can't wait to go find the rest of this author's books.