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Book Talk: Serial killer kicks off new series

Having strangled her with his tie, he lifted her off the ground, held her upright, and placed her feet on top of his own. Holding her tight, listening to the music, and swaying through the ballroom, he said, “Dance, my marionette, because I will it. Compliant. For my pleasure alone.”

And so begins “The Dancing Girls,” the debut novel by M.M. Chouinard. This is the first of a four-book series featuring Jo (Josette) Fournier, a newly promoted lieutenant in the Oakhurst (Massachusetts) Police Department.

When Jo meets with Detectives Bob Arnett and Christine Lopez at the hotel where the body was found, Arnett tells her, “She wasn’t strangled on the floor. The ME said the bruises and ligature marks indicate she was strangled while standing up.”

As Jo sorts through the unsolved-case files, she finds suspected homicide incidents that bear a remarkable similarity to the murder of Jeanine Hammond: female bodies posed like ballerinas, missing wedding rings, indications that they were not killed where their bodies were found. But there are so many things that don’t make any sense.

When Jo was a detective, she had the best closed-case record, but now she wonders if she’s experiencing the Peter Principle. Lawrence J. Peter was a Canadian educator whose insight into human weaknesses led him to conclude that, within any bureaucracy, a person may rise to a level of incompetence.

Chouinard is well qualified to deal with this issue. With a Master’s and a Ph.D. in psychology from Stanford, she was one of the founding faculty at U.C. Merced.

I think that her educational background made her uniquely qualified to choreograph a complex and intriguing cat-and-mouse game by serial killers who are intent on murdering each other.

Like her protagonist Jo Fournier, Chouinard does not back off from challenges. She and her husband have climbed both a volcano and a glacier. However, she says that she’ll never do either again. “I almost burned my foot off in a flow of lava, and my husband almost slipped into a crevice in the glacier. Next time we’ll take the helicopter.” She followed “The Dancing Girls” with “Taken to the Grave,” in which Jo has to deal with dead bodies that are showing up with tarot cards to mark their demise. But, like the posing of the ballerinas, this doesn’t make sense either because the first card means “betrayal” and the next one indicates “domestic bliss.”

Jo is again the protagonist in “Her Daughter’s Cry,” the third book in the series. In this novel, someone wants to kill Zoe, and she can’t remember why. In fact, she can’t remember anything. And Jo has few clues to solve the problem.

In her fourth book, “The Other Mothers,” Gia’s little girl disappears from the school playground. And Gia’s best friend Nicole was supervising the area at the time. Jo wonders how Nicole could have missed seeing an apparent kidnapping. So will you.


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Jim Glynn may be contacted at


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