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by Valerie Wilson Wesley
Kensington, July 2023
195 pages
ISBN: 1496739655

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

In Valerie Wilson Wesley's third Odessa Jones cozy, Dessa remains as acerbically witty and clairvoyant as ever. A middle-aged New Jersey-dwelling African- American woman, widow of a husband she loved, gifted cook and caterer, domestic companion of a cat named Juniper, and lately a real estate agent, Dessa Jones is vivaciously busy but also in tune with her ancestresses, exemplified by her Aunt Phoenix, elder sister of her mother. Both these women are long dead, but Aunt Phoenix communicates with Dessa through phantom cooking scents, and also divulges "the occasional NJ Pick 4 winner" or "texts... quotes from Maya Angelou." The series utilizes the supernatural lightly, as a kind of seasoning. Essential but not overpowering, the ghostly is not foregrounded or announced with pyrotechnic fantasy effects.

A new employee at ditzy Tanya Risko's real estate agency, where Dessa works, is Anna Lee. A young woman with a "chubby baby face," Anna is delighted to be hired by Risko Realty. For her, it is a refuge. She "came of age in a rough- and-tumble nearby city." Shortly thereafter, she goes on a run and turns up dead, allegedly killed by a hit-and-run driver. Accident or murder? Dessa senses the latter, but must prove it.

While she investigates the murder, she contemplates Anna's name. Anna Lee sounds to her a lot like "Annabel Lee," the very much dead love interest in Edgar Allan Poe's haunting and squicky poem of the same name. "And the moon never beams without giving me dreams of the beautiful Annabel Lee / And the stars never rise but I see the bright eyes of the beautiful Annabel Lee." Who might have killed this Annabel? Who might be as obsessed with her as Poe was with her original, his late preteen cousin-wife Virginia.

A SHIMMER OF RED being a cozy, Dessa solves these mysteries. She does so with the help, as usual, of her "Risko Realty Family" and her spirit kinswomen. That fact reveals, as this series consistently does, that cozies are about communities, and can help to redefine communities in ways that are inspiring, empowering, and beautiful.

Also, Dessa's two recipes at the end are very good. I recommend the pesto. It's easy to make enough for your whole family: born, married, and found; corporeal and ancestral.

Rebecca Nesvet is an Associate Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay and co-edits Reviewing the Evidence.

Reviewed by Rebecca Nesvet, September 2023

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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