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Death, Unchartered

When a child’s skeleton is discovered during the excavation of the site for a new charter school being built in the Bronx, former teacher Sylvia Jensen is certain of only two things. She is sure that the remains are those of eight-year-old Markus LeMeur, her third-grade student who disappeared in the violent and tumultuous fall of 1968. And she is sure that his death was no accident. Determined to find out who killed Markus and why, Sylvia again joins forces with investigative reporter J. B. Harrell and together they delve into the strikes and political protests of the late 1960s and corporate greed of the present. As Sylvia fights to make peace with her own past, she realizes that she missed her chance to save Markus, and she becomes driven to find his killer, before he can kill again.


Death, Unchartered is about the struggle to come to terms with the past and the courage it takes to find one’s sense of place and purpose in an unjust society.

​​​WINNER! American Fiction Awards in Mystery: Multicultural and Diverse Category and FINALIST! in General Fiction Category

What Readers are saying:


Most murder stories focus on investigative processes. The best provide a side dish of social inspection. But Death, Unchartered takes an additional leap into complexity by providing the subplot of an inner city teacher’s efforts to help disadvantaged children at all costs—even possibly sacrificing her career to make a stand on their behalf—and this adds an extra dimension to the story of a child’s death, creating a riveting production pairing a murder mystery with ethical and moral conundrums. . . . Political activism, forces of corruption that affect public education funding and pursuits, and issues reaching from the 1960s tumult to modern-day graft create a story that is filled with many possibilities and much insight. . . . It’s this broader perspective that makes Death, Unchartered more than just another murder ‘whodunnit’ but an unrelenting probe into the impact of greed and special interests on the educational system. Readers who turn to Death, Unchartered for a murder mystery genre read will find the story compelling, complex, and injected with the protagonist’s personal reflections and transformations which keep the plot moving quickly and crafts a gripping read with a surprising outcome. –– D. Donovan, Midwest Book Review


Death, Unchartered is a haunting read that will cause readers to sit up and take notice. It is a powerful journey wrapped up in an intense mystery/thriller one won’t soon forget.. . . While I think this book is a great choice for readers who enjoy a good murder mystery, I especially  recommend it to social workers and educators. It will leave an impact!  — Paige Lovitt for Reader Views


The second novel in Van Soest’s (At The Center, 2015, etc.) Sylvia Jensen Mystery Series reunites the recently former social worker with Native American investigative reporter J.B. Harrell, setting them on a quest to uncover the truth about the disappearance of a young boy in the Bronx almost four decades ago. . . . Van Soest is a skilled writer, equally adept with dialogue and narrative. . . A solid, engaging mystery with a timely plot. — Kirkus Review


Protagonist Sylvia Jensen—a more realistic and insecure version of Jessica Fletcher—explores crime and murder at the center of America’s increasingly corporate approach to education—an investigation that sets her at odds with some very dangerous people. —Shawn Otto, award-winning American novelist, nonfiction author, filmmaker, political strategist, speaker, science advocate, and screenwriter and co-producer of the movie: House of Sand and Fog.


As someone who taught in New York City during the epic 1968 teacher’s strike, reading Death Unchartered sent me back in a time machine, not unlike the heroine, Sylvia Jensen, who returns to the Bronx to solve this crime and connect once again with the angels and demons of her past.  —Alan Feldman. Author, Immortality,winner of the Mass Book Award for Poetry, Massachusetts Center for the Book


Embedded in this fast-paced murder mystery are serious themes, including political corruption, the harsh injustices of poverty and racism, and the misappropriation of millions of dollars intended for public education.   —Hal Zina Bennett, bestselling author of Write From the Heart: Unleashing the Power of Your Creativity


Death, Uncharted is a captivating read. . . It is must read for all students and professionals in social work and education. —Cynthia Franklin, PhD, LCSW, Professor and Associate Dean, The University of Texas at Austin

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