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Voice Out of Darkness

Voice Out of Darkness - Ursula Curtiss Ursula Reilly Curtiss, born in 1923, came into the world with fairly impressive crime-fiction genes. Her mother, Helen Reilly, her sister, Mary McMullen, and her brother, James Kieran, all wrote mysteries. Her first book, "Voice Out of Darkness," won the Red Badge Award for the best new mystery of 1948.

Rather than penning police procedurals like her mother, Curtiss focused on the type of story where an innocent bystander gets pulled reluctantly into becoming an amateur sleuth — against a backdrop of seeming domestic calm, with layers of evil hiding behind family secrets and familiar faces. Her protagonists were usually female, except for works like 1951's "The Noonday Devil," where the main character is a man who learns his brother's death as a Japanese POW was carefully planned by a fellow prisoner.

"Voice Out of Darkness" falls into the female-protagonist camp, where we find that thirteen years prior to the events of the book, Katy Meredith lost her foster-sister, Monica, in a skating accident. Although Katy tried to save Monica, Monica's last words were "Katy pushed me." Katy thought she'd escaped both her home town and the horrors of Monica's death by moving to New York, until she starts receiving threatening notes in the mail. At first she wonders if someone else near the ice that day overheard Monica's words and is trying to blackmail her, but when Katy returns to her childhood home, she finds evidence of a calculating killer whose sights are now set on her.

Curtiss has moments of crisp observations in her writing, but her strengths are in her characterizations, setting and pacing. The novel is a quick read, which helps make the slight thinness and predictability of the plot (at least by 21st-century eyes looking backward), not much of a distraction.