Book Review: Death in the Family

(Shana Merchant #1)
02.18.2020 | Berkley
5/5 stars


Thirteen months ago, Senior Investigator Shana Merchant was abducted by a serial killer. She’s hoping to find a way back to normality and has moved from New York City to a small community known as Thousand Islands in search of peace. This is an area where murder and violent crime is basically nonexistent. When Shana gets the call that a man is missing from an isolated island with the only clue being a blood-soaked bed, her first instinct tells her a killer is on the loose. On Tern Island, Shana and her partner, Tim, come face to face with the wealthy Sinclair family who all have at least one secret to hide and countless reasons for motive. A Nor’Easter kicks into high gear, leaving the detectives and the family trapped on this island with a violent killer amongst them. The question isn’t will they strike again, but when?


DEATH IN THE FAMILY is the first novel in a series focusing on Senior Investigator Shana Merchant, as well as the debut novel for Tessa Wegert. This book encompasses everything crime fiction junkies and police procedural fans want in their stories. Structured as a classic locked room style story, Wegert is able to keep tensions high, which also allows the reader to familiarize themselves with all of the suspects alongside Shana. It quickly becomes clear that no one in this family is telling the truth and their secrets are easily translated to motive.

Wegert uses Tern Island and a Nor’Easter storm to trap the Sinclair family and our detectives together in an isolated location. There is only one way on the island and one way off, which is by boats that won’t get far with the current forecast. My favorite part of a locked room mystery, which I suspect holds true for other readers, is knowing that the killer is obviously amongst the group. I love having a set suspect list and working to eliminate people from it. In a nod to Agatha Christie, you can feel the Hercule Poirot vibes coming from Shana when she gathers everyone into the same room and starts to go over each person’s motive one by one.


The characters ranging from the Sinclair family to our detective duo are part of what made this story such an excellent read. Shana is clearly the star of the novel and as the story progresses we get to learn snippets of her backstory and how she ended up in Thousand Islands. Shana may have a damaged past, but she’s still incredibly fierce. She is genuinely a main character the reader can bond with and someone I’m excited to embark on a series to learn more about! As Shana starts her investigation we are introduced to each member of the Sinclair family during their interviews. Here is where you really need to pay attention to clues! I swear, I was studying these conversations and Wegert still kept me guessing until the end!

I highly recommend DEATH IN THE FAMILY to anyone looking for a classic work of crime fiction, fans of detective series reads, or simply anyone who wants to be swept away on an island with a crazy family and a potential killer! I can’t wait for the next installment to come out!

This book is available to buy from: Amazon | Book Depository

Disclosure: What Jess Reads is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to This in no way influences my opinion of the above book.

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