“Where’s Billie?” by Judith Yates Borger

My friend and erstwhile-writing-group member Judith Yates Borger kindly sent me a copy of her first novel, Where’s Billie, a mystery set in the Twin Cities, Minnesota. Full disclaimer: I’m not going to have anything like objectivity on this book. I saw it through several drafts, and have a great deal of affection for it.

That said, this is a very good book. At the center of the mystery is newspaper reporter Marguerite “Skeeter” Hughes. As a running joke through the novel, she routinely deflects people’s questions about her nickname. Skeeter is given the dud assignment of responding to an anxious mother’s report of a missing teenage girl named Billie. She soon finds there’s a great deal more than a sullen teen run away from an unhappy home. As she puts together her story, Skeeter fills us in on both newspaper and Minnesota cultures. This was a hoot to read–as a non-native, I sometimes laughed, sometimes felt abashed at the spot-on characterizations. In pursuit of Billie, Skeeter also struggles to care for her two daughters, play phone-tag with her husband, and maintain some kind of objectivity as the story hits closer and closer to home. She is shot at, her car is bombed, young girls are being lured into danger, and there’s meth and a connection to the mayor thrown in for good measure.

Borger is a retired journalist, and this background stands her in good stead. The story unfolds easily and quickly in straightforward prose. Skeeter has a dry sense of humor, as well as good insight into her struggles to balance work and home. In the end, the main mystery wraps up satisfactorily, if not neatly–read it and you’ll see what I mean. For Skeeter, though, things aren’t so Minnesota nice; there were a few things, one of them major, that I didn’t see coming.

Where’s Billie has a lot to offer–a solidly plotted mystery, an engaging main character who could easily helm her own series, ethnographic insights into journalism and Minnesota, a nefarious bad guy and a complex yet satisfying ending. It’s good stuff. I recommend it and look forward to a sequel.

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