By Sue Star



On the day Nell Letterly is supposed to meet her new employer, Arlo Callahan, and start as an instructor in his Boulder, Colorado karate studio, she finds the dead body of the former instructor. Within days, evidence and suspicions fall directly upon Nell. With no help from the police, she decides to find the killer herself. There is no shortage of suspects: Callahan’s wife, a jealous instructor, a disruptive student, an ex girlfriend, an enigmatic janitor. With obstacles on all sides, Nell has to use not just her deductive reasoning to fathom out the killer, but her martial arts experience to save her own life.

As a martial artist myself, I have to favor any story featuring taekwondo/karate/self defense/weapons/sparring. The plot deals with betrayal and illegal immigrants and includes a fair amount of martial arts skills, techniques and philosophy.


Nell Letterly: 45, short stature, husband ran off, has a teenage daughter, black belt in American Freestyle taekwondo, unemployed for four months, has two older brothers, drives a Karmann Ghia

Rosenquist: Boulder, Colorado Detective, was assigned to look for Nell’s husband, big man, frowns a lot, receding hairline

Gillian Gannon: Nell’s husband’s half sister, tall, blonde, green eyes, bosomy, professionally groomed, rarely wears the same outfit twice, attended Smith, owns a Golden Retriever

Arlo Callahan: owner of Callahan’s Karate, fifties, lanky, doesn’t own a cell phone, married and divorced twice and currently going through divorce number three

I found it strange that the owner of the karate place, didn’t react when a drunk woman and a belligerent student interrupted classes and left to Nell to handle the matter. This is his business and if I had been a parent watching the class, I would have thought twice about returning if this is the behavior that is allowed. Callahan didn’t act like a karate club owner and his lackadaisical attitude was irritating especially when he kept wondering at the soundness of his decision to hire Nell in the first place. He just didn’t seem to have any sense whether common or business. I never discovered Rosenquist’s first name unless I missed it. Other characters are interesting, including the sloppy student who can’t tie his own belt, the egotistical instructor, and Nell’s instructor.


Good voices from everybody including the teens.


First person from Nell’s POV. A couple instances of profanity. I hoped for a little more action and exhibiting of Nell’s martial arts skills. Maybe a little more description of the tournament since. The fight scene at the end seemed to conclude rather abruptly. Star’s knowledge of martial arts came through and her use of details allowed me to vividly imagine the house/studio where Nell worked and lived. Still a fine first story in the Black Belt Murder series.

My ranking:

Blue Belt


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