The Prison Tangram
by Claire Huot
Easter morning: two women, inmates at Vermont’s new reform prison for women (P4W), are found dead. They were isolated in separate cells with no contact between them; yet, both are found lying in the identical position, and no cause of death can be determined in either case.
The deaths are the first in Montrose Penitentiary, and they’re particularly untimely because a special commission is about to review the status of this experiment in prison reform. The commission could decide to abolish the reforms, or even privatize the prison. Vermont may be on the progressive edge of America, but it seems, even here, bottom-line budgeting is gaining the upper hand. Desperate to save her prison project, the warden calls on Burlington’s chief of police to put his best detective on the case ASAP. The chief promptly assigns the case to a rookie. Rey Pirelli, a Caucasian who speaks Mandarin, has 14 days to solve the mystery.
What do the two dead women have in common? At first glance, very little. May Ho is a 43 year-old divorced university film professor, a hip urban intellectual from a Chinese-American background. Elizabeth Rich, 33, is an unemployed trailer-park single mother from Irish stock.
But two things unite them. The first is murder. The second is their China connection.