There’s some gruesome stuff happening in McHenry County in Sheldon Rusch’s debut mystery, For Edgar (Berkley), and it’s up to Illinois State Police special agent Elizabeth Taylor Hewitt to get to the bottom of it all. A human skull affixed to a tree in Chain O’ Lakes State Park, trailing a gold ribbon, eventually leads to a clue: a metallic golden scarab. Hmm. A former UIC English major, Hewitt deduces that the depraved killer’s “work” references the Edgar Allan Poe story “The Gold-Bug.” Ensuing murders, each more horrific than the last, follow the pattern: a Wilmette woman suffers in homage to “The Tell-Tale Heart,” a Palatine woman is dispatched a la “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.” To get inside the mind of the psycho dubbed the Raven, Hewitt enlists the aid of her ex-lover Scott Fitzgerald Gregory, now a Northwestern English prof who happens to be a Poe expert. But what connects the suburban female victims? Their fondness for Chicago karaoke bars? Is there a clue in Poe’s haunting poem “The Bells?” And how does the killer know which Poe tale most frightens the special agent? (Avoid oblong boxes, Hewitt!) Rusch, who lives in suburban Milwaukee, keeps an admirable rein on the snappy gumshoe banter while never letting the suspense waver, and the jazz-loving, hot chocolate-addicted Hewitt is a pretty likable protagonist; I suspect she’ll merit a sequel. Wed 1/18, 7:30 PM, Barbara’s Bookstore, 1218 S. Halsted, 312-413-2665.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Carolyn Crossot.