Born Lauretta Allen, in St. Louis, MO; married second husband, Joe Lange (an artist and musician), 2003; children: (first marriage) two daughters. Hobbies and other interests: Cemetery hopping, genealogy, reading, theater, quilting, photography, music.
Home—St. Louis, MO.
Writer. Has worked as a customer service representative at a book wholesaler.
"TORIE O'SHEA" MYSTERY SERIES
Family Skeletons, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1997.
A Veiled Antiquity, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1998.
A Comedy of Heirs, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1999.
A Misty Mourning, St. Martin's Minotaur (New York, NY), 2000.
Killing Cousins, St. Martin's Minotaur (New York, NY), 2002.
Blood Relations, St. Martin's Minotaur (New York, NY), 2003.
In Sheep's Clothing, St. Martin's Minotaur (New York, NY), 2004.
Thicker Than Water, St. Martin's Minotaur (New York, NY), 2005.
Dead Man Running, St. Martin's Minotaur (New York, NY), 2006.
Died in the Wool, St. Martin's Minotaur (New York, NY), 2007.
Rett MacPherson's mystery series begins with Family Skeletons and features Victory "Torie" O'Shea. Torie is the wife of Rudy, mother of Rachel and Mary, and an amateur genealogist and museum docent who lives in New Kassel, Missouri. Shortly after antiques dealer Norah Zumwalt asks Torie to try to find her father, whom she has not seen since he went off to serve in World War II, Norah is found brutally murdered. Torie uncovers a growing number of family secrets, including a decades-old murder, a false identity, and a love triangle. She sifts through her clues in an effort to solve Norah's murder in spite of warnings from the local police to stay out of it. "Meanwhile, if you can believe it, her divorced, wheelchair-bound mother keeps track of Victory's house, husband, chicken coop, and two preschoolers," commented a Kirkus Reviews contributor, who felt that "stressed female readers may feel that her supermom deserves a case and possibly a career of her own." A Publishers Weekly critic remarked that Torie's rich home life "adds appealing dimension to this new amateur sleuth." Booklist reviewer Emily Melton found the novel "has an appealing down-home style and offbeat charm."
Torie's next adventure comes in A Veiled Antiquity, when local resident Marie Dijon falls—or more likely was pushed—down a flight of stairs to her death. When Torie begins to investigate, her own safety is threatened. As she digs deeper, she discovers papers written in French that link Marie's murder to another killing in 1922; the documents also contain historical evidence about the legendary Man in the Iron Mask. The sheriff, who in the previous book was uncooperative, is now an ally, and is also courting Torie's mother. A Kirkus Reviews critic felt readers "may find the odd chuckle in this warmhearted album." A Publishers Weekly contributor found that while it may be a reach to expect to find an answer to the French mystery in small-town America, "MacPherson's genial exploration of village relationships and neighborly nuances carries its own raison d'etre." Booklist writer John Rowen commented that because of the way in which she spins her yarns, "Mark Twain seems reincarnated in the witty MacPherson."
Writing in Library Journal, Rex E. Klett called A Comedy of Heirs "a pleasant return to a charming series." It is Torie's turn to host the Christmas family reunion, a job she takes on just as she learns of her unexpected pregnancy. While in the middle of preparations, Torie anonymously receives old newspaper clippings that describe the killing of her great-grandfather as he stood on his porch. Torie, who prides herself on keeping accurate records of her family, has always believed he had been killed in a hunting accident. With all the family members in attendance, the reunion will be a good place to begin asking questions, but the deeper Torie digs the more questions present themselves. What she learns is that the man had been openly unfaithful to his wife and had abused his children. There were several people who would have liked to see him dead. In reviewing A Comedy of Heirs for the Mystery Reader Web site, Karen Lynch noted that "the strength of author Rett MacPherson's writing is in her superb characterization. Torie's family is loving, hilarious, and real. I was so caught up in the characters' lives, I sometimes forgot there was a mystery to be solved…. But A Comedy of Heirs is a mystery, and a good one." A Publishers Weekly contributor felt that "although the title promises comedy, there's much more than humor at stake in this heartrending tale of family pride and the coverups to keep it intact."
As A Misty Mourning begins, Torie is seven months pregnant and helping her mother prepare for her wedding to Sheriff Colin Brooke when she agrees to accompany her grandmother Gert to a friend's home in West Virginia. Clarissa Hart Campbell runs the Panther Run boardinghouse, which is home to Norville Gross and Sherise Tyler. Clarissa has gathered everyone involved to discuss her new will, but before she is able to do so she is murdered and the will is burned. Torie is discovered standing by her bed, holding a pillow. But Clarissa had e-mailed a copy of the will to her attorney, and when it is read Torie finds that she is the beneficiary of the historic Panther Run, which brings with it a curse of bad luck, as has befallen all the previous owners. Clarissa's children would have benefited under the old will, but under this one Norville also inherits a large sum of money. Before he can collect, however, he is also killed. Since Torie's family was originally from this coal mining area, she is able to enlist the help of a cousin, and they dig up records that seem to connect the current wave of murders with a lynching in the early 1900s. "The past is more dramatic and plausible than the present, where nothing, certainly not murder, dampens Torie's perkiness," wrote a Kirkus Reviews critic. Victoria Esposito-Shea stated on the Hand Held Crime Web site that "though there's nothing fundamentally wrong with the living characters, it's the dead characters, Clarissa and Torie's great-grandmother Birdie McClanahan, who carry the story and capture the reader."
Lynch also reviewed A Misty Mourning for the Mystery Reader Web site, saying that the character of Torie O'Shea "has become one of my favorite mystery sleuths. It's not her superior investigative abilities that I find so appealing, it's her personality. Torie is as real, warts and all, as any one of my acquaintances. Sitting down with a Torie O'Shea mystery is a bit like catching up with an old friend." Book Browser contributor Harriet Klausner noted that "the story line, based on the coal mine owners' total control of the work force, provides the audience with a realistic glimpse into an unsavory time in this country's heritage." A Publishers Weekly reviewer called MacPherson "generous with her wit, and her descriptions of the landscape of Appalachia and the people who live there are especially evocative."
In Killing Cousins Torie has her third child and her mother marries the sheriff, who has just purchased the estate of jazz singer Catherine Finch with the intention of going into the collectibles business. At the same time, the local historical society has asked Torie to write a biography of the town's most notable resident, and Torie agrees. What she finds as she researches her life, however, is that Catherine had a baby who was abducted, and there is no record of his ever having been found. The mayor decides to bring riverboat gambling to the town and orders the razing of the Yates house. During the demolition, the remains of Patrick Ward, a former resident, and the skeleton of an infant are discovered. Torie suspects that the secret to these deaths is being hidden by six Finch cousins, one of whom is now the governor. A Publishers Weekly contributor wrote that "with her characteristic blend of wit and sarcasm, MacPherson has delivered another winning whodunit." Booklist critic Margaret Flanagan called this fifth installment of the series "another superbly crafted entry in a series noted for the charm and eccentricity of its tenacious sleuth."
In Blood Relations a drought lowers the water level in the river, revealing the remains of the steamboat Phantom, which sank in 1919, supposedly with a treasure of diamonds aboard. Torie works on the mystery with a television reporter who claims to be doing a documentary on the boat. When Torie discovers a body of someone who was recently murdered, the mystery takes on greater proportions. A Publishers Weekly reviewer wrote that "MacPherson provides a stellar example of the traditional cozy."
As MacPherson's series has progressed, critics have increasingly commented on how the characters have grown on them and that the mysteries have become cozily familiar. For example, New Mystery Reader Web site reviewer Stephanie Padilla, remarked of Dead Man Running, that "we've grown to adore" the author's characters so much that the story line is "really of no great concern as the fun is simply in enjoying this appealing cast of characters." "This series seems to get more and more enjoyable with age," Jenny McLarin similarly remarked in a Booklist review of Thicker Than Water.
The heroine's life has changed and grown over the series, too, as she gains a stepfather, hits a rough spot with her husband and, in Thicker Than Water, becomes wealthy after inheriting the estate of her employer, Sylvia Pershing. Nevertheless, it is Torie's expertise as a genealogist that continues to prove so helpful in her sleuthing. For In Sheep's Clothing Torie travels to Minnesota to visit her Aunt Sissy. It turns out, though, that her aunt has an ulterior motive for the invitation and wants Torie to examine an 1890 book, written in longhand, that might hold the key to an old murder. The mystery becomes doubly intriguing when Torie's stepfather, Sheriff Brooke, is accused of a murder, and the deaths might actually be connected. Harriet Klausner, writing on her Web site, called the work "a refreshing wholesome and cerebral who-done-it starring a heroine who is so adorable it is impossible not to like her."
Thicker Than Water has Torie suspecting that Sylvia Pershing, though she was 102 years old, did not die of natural causes. She seeks out answers to the death while simultaneously fretting over a visit from her grating mother-in-law and struggling against resentment in her home town from those who are jealous of her newfound wealth. A postcard from 1930 addressed to Pershing might be a key clue in a story that has "Torie's extended adolescence … drawing to an end as she comes to terms with Sylvia's flaws," as a Kirkus Reviews writer related.
Dead Man Running centers on a mayoral election in which the two candidates are Sheriff Brooke and the incumbent, Mayor Castlereagh, who has never been a man Torie admired. Still, she honors a request to research the genealogy of both men, only to discover that the mayor has past family ties to the mob. The fact might prove important when the mayor disappears and clues seem to indicate he could have been a victim of the Mafia. Died in the Wool finds Torie planning to open a quilt museum featuring the work of Glory Kendall. In researching the Kendall family, though, Torie discovers a number of mysterious deaths that spark her sleuthing interest. Klausner, writing again on her Web site, called this installment in the series "a fascinating depiction of a genealogist decoding the clues to a cold case mystery," adding: "The upbeat heroine is a wonderful role model." A Publishers Weekly critic promised that "Torie's determined historical detective work will absorb cozy readers."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, March 15, 1997, Emily Melton, review of Family Skeletons, p. 1230; June 1, 1998, John Rowen, review of A Veiled Antiquity, p. 1734; July, 1999, John Rowen, review of A Comedy of Heirs, p. 1927; August, 2000, John Rowen, review of A Misty Mourning, p. 2121; April 1, 2002, Margaret Flanagan, review of Killing Cousins, p. 1309; February 15, 2003, Jenny McLarin, review of Blood Relations, p. 134; February 15, 2004, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of In Sheep's Clothing, p. 1043; February 15, 2005, Jenny McLarin, review of Thicker Than Water, p. 1065; February 1, 2007, David Pitt, review of Died in the Wool, p. 35.
Kirkus Reviews, January 1, 1997, review of Family Skeletons, p. 24; May 15, 1998, review of A Veiled Antiquity, p. 698; July 15, 2000, review of A Misty Mourning, p. 991; January 1, 2003, review of Blood Relations, p. 134; February 1, 2005, review of Thicker Than Water, p. 153; January 15, 2006, review of Dead Man Running, p. 65.
Library Journal, March 1, 1997, Rex E. Klett, review of Family Skeletons, p. 107; September 15, 1997, review of Family Skeletons, p. 128; May 1, 1998, Rex E. Klett, review of A Veiled Antiquity, p. 143; July, 1999, Rex E. Klett, review of A Comedy of Heirs, p. 141; August, 2000, Rex E. Klett, review of A Misty Mourning, p. 166; March 1, 2002, Rex E. Klett, review of Killing Cousins, p. 144; April 1, 2003, Rex E. Klett, review of Blood Relations, p. 134; February 1, 2004, Rex E. Klett, review of In Sheep's Clothing, p. 129.
MBR Bookwatch, February 1, 2005, Harriet Klausner, review of Thicker Than Water.
Publishers Weekly, January 13, 1997, review of Family Skeletons, p. 59; April 20, 1998, review of A Veiled Antiquity, p. 50; July 12, 1999, review of A Comedy of Heirs, p. 79; August 14, 2000, review of A Misty Mourning, p. 332; February 25, 2002, review of Killing Cousins, p. 45; March 3, 2003, review of Blood Relations, p. 134; February 6, 2006, review of Dead Man Running, p. 47; January 1, 2007, review of Died in the Wool, p. 34.
School Library Journal, February, 2000, Pam Johnson, review of A Comedy of Heirs, p. 142.
Book Browser,http://www.barnesandnoble.com/bookbrowser/ (July 4, 2000), Harriet Klausner, review of A Misty Mourning; (February 15, 2002) Harriet Klausner, review of Killing Cousins.
Hand Held Crime,http://www.handheldcrime.com/ (May 25, 2007), Victoria Esposito-Shea, review of Misty Mourning.
Harriet Klausner Web site,http://harrietklausner.wwwi.com/ (May 10, 2007), reviews of Died in the Wool, In Sheep's Clothing, and Thicker Than Water.
Mystery Reader,http://www.themysteryreader.com/ (July 26, 2002), Karen Lynch, reviews of A Comedy of Heirs and A Misty Mourning.
New Mystery Reader,http://www.newmysteryreader.com/ (May 10, 2007), Stephanie Padilla, reviews of Dead Man Running and Thicker Than Water, C.J. Curry, review of In Sheep's Clothing.
Reviewingtheevidence.com,http://www.reviewingtheevidence.com/ (May 1, 2005), Sharon Katz, review of Thicker Than Water.