Burying Ben by Ellen Kirschman

published 2013

Burying Ben 2

By the time we reach Little Mexico, firecrackers and rockets are shattering the late afternoon air, spooking dogs into a chorus of frightened yelps. We begin at the church. A procession of people is snaking slowly around the square following a horse drawn cart. A phalanx of altar boys carry a statue of the Virgin Mary on a small flower-draped platform. People are throwing roses into the street. “That’s so the Virgin doesn’t have to walk on the hard pavement,” Frank explains while rolling his eyes at me and laughing. A pale yellow sun lights the dusty air. Rockets are exploding, and a brass band is playing music that sounds more German than Mexican.

Burying Ben

[later] It takes two or three apologies cum explanations to persuade him that I’m not a total flake before he agrees to meet me at Sabrosa, a Mexican restaurant in East Kenilworth. The walls are covered with tiny milagros and large colorful masks. Tin framed mirrors sparkle in the candlelight. The waiter seats us in a booth next to a small alcove displaying the smiling ceramic skeleton of a pregnant female dressed in a brightly painted clay skirt and sunbonnet. She is holding a ruffled parasol in her bony hand. I can’t help but think that this is an ominous portent of April Gomez’ future, which I have just linked to my own.

observations: This is one of the many books I first heard of over at Col’s Criminal Library – you can read his review here. I think it’s right on the cusp where our tastes overlap – a good honest American crime story, with a great female lead and an unusual setup.

The action takes place in a small town in California, Kenilworth, and protagonist Dot Meyerhoff has just been taken on by the Police Department as a psychologist: her job is to look after the mental welfare of the policemen. But it’s not going well – the Ben of the title has been a problematic patient, and now he has committed suicide, leaving a note blaming her.

But is there more to this than meets the eye? Well of course – this is a crime novel. It’s an intriguing problem and I liked following the twists and turns of the investigation. It stayed on the right side of believable, and although there are some bad people and some violence in the story, it didn’t get too gruesome for me. You would guess that Kirschman really knows her stuff: there’s a lot of very interesting background info in the book, and she gives some useful resources at the end.

Dot is a maddening character – she does some ridiculous things  – she says herself she does crazy things, and another character says “You piss people off, you know that? I bet that’s why somebody broke into your house.”

But the book is also very funny. I liked this, when she’s been talking to a young police recruit:
“I’ve been asking all the questions, Manny. Do you have any questions for me?”
“Just one,” he says, turning to a framed black and white photograph of Sigmund Freud that Mark had given me when I finished grad school. “The guy in the picture? Is that your husband?”
And when she has to supply some clinical notes as part of an investigation, she is embarrassed that she has a shopping list scribbled in the margins. (I empathized: as a young reporter something very similar happened to me, in court.)

I discovered a phrase I had never heard of: a young woman says ‘I was knocking boots with a bunch of guys.’ Yes, you can guess what it means.

All in all this was a good read, with a very involving plot, and I hope this is the start of a series about Dot Meyerhoff. And thanks again to Col for the tipoff.

The pictures are of a Mexican church, and of Mexican folk artThere was a similar picture for a Day of the Dead entry on the blog:

Burying ben 3


  1. Moira - I already can picture this book's setting and context, because I live in Southern California. I do like the setup here, too; it sounds like a really interesting major plot thread. And if both you and Col, with your different perspectives, recommend this one, I really ought to see for myself. Oh, and I think knocking boots with... is a creative expression.

    1. Of course, this will be familiar(ish) to you. As you say, it's half way between Col and me, and so a good honest police & crime book, but not too violent or gruesome - just right.

    2. Thanks Moira for your review. So happy you liked the BEN. I'm also pleased to report that I've signed with Oceanview Publishing for the second Dot Meyerhoff book. I 'lol be sure to let you know.

      Your blog is fascinating. I always find it challenging to decide how much description I should include of a character's clothes and how much to leave to the reader's imagination. I'd love to know what you and your readers prefer.

    3. Thanks for dropping by, and will be looking forward to new book.
      Of course I love as much description as possible, and I'm proud to say that some of my readers say they notice clothes in books much more since reading my blog...

  2. Glad you enjoyed Moira. Thanks for linking back.....I wonder if she's writing another?

  3. Knocking boots? That sounds like some kind of sport.... Sometimes I can be very slow on the uptake, but I suspect from your "you can guess" that the sport in question is usually horizontal. (Did emails arrive OK?)

    1. If in doubt, always assume hitherto-unknown slang refers to sex. Yes, thanks for info and pics... watch this space.

  4. I like the sound of this, and hope to be able to read it sometime. I still can't get comfortable with present tense in novels, though. It throws me off now and then as I am reading.

    1. I prefer past tense, but I can live with the present. I do think you would like this one, I think it's the book that will unite Col, you and me!


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