O’Brien’s Desk

Written by Ona Russell
Review by Juliet Waldron

This is an engaging example of that popular cross-genre, the history/mystery. Set in Toledo, Ohio, in 1923, Ona Russell tells a story that has grown like coral upon the skeleton of a suddenly revealed piece of her own family history. The daily details, smoothly integrated into narrative, give her tale a pleasing, authentic ring. The mystery revolves around the nervous collapse of a well-regarded reform Judge, who, although long a bachelor, has recently acquired a much younger wife. His most trusted assistant, a chief probation officer of women, is the sleuth. Sarah pushes the career edges of the possible, for in 1923 she is both a Jew and a “Progressive.” Fortunately for Judge O’Brien, his trusted right hand woman is also a devotee of Sherlock Holmes. Sarah’s crusade to save her beloved bosses’ sanity (and his job) in the middle of an election year draws her down some enjoyably puzzling paths.