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by Kim Antieau
Forge, April 2004
288 pages
ISBN: 0765302683

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Jeanne Les Flambeaux is the youngest child in the Les Flambeaux clan, and as such has a very different view of her family than do her siblings, Antoine and Belinda. She is also the only member of her extended family who can't cook. This is a major handicap when one's parents own the renowned Oui & Si French/Mexican restaurant. Then there is the little problem of the voices she hears, the voices nobody else hears.

It is the annual Day of the Dead celebration, and Jeanne is dressed in "the ceremonial dead-skeletal-ancestor costume which is all black except for the glow-in-the-dark green bones." Her role in this year's celebration is to take apart the family heirlooms, a crystal skull and the ruby scepter on which it sits, and put them in the family safe until the Day of the Living celebration, where they make another appearance.

Jeanne gets sidetracked by her cousin-by-marriage Johnny, with whom she "had ruffled the sheets together on more than a few occasions." When she wakes up the next morning, Johnny is gone and so is the ruby scepter.

Jeanne tracks down her errant cousin, and eventually the scepter. She winds up working as a cook in a restaurant to pay off Johnny's gambling debts, for which he traded the scepter to the restaurant's owner. Many strange and wondrous things happen to and around Jeanne while she is schleppping around the American Southwest.

There is a mystery of sorts in COYOTE COWGIRL. People around the country have been disappearing, a large percentage of them women. What makes these missing people seem to be connected is the letters WIJ, which appear somewhere in the victim's surroundings. Antoine refers to Jeanne as a WIJ, meaning Woman in Jeopardy, because she is a skinny, petite woman who would seem to be easy to harm.

The WIJ mystery is not what it seems to be. Very little in COYOTE COWGIRL is, actually. Jeanne finds out that most of what she knows as family history is false -- sometimes on purpose, sometimes because she never thought to ask if what she remembers is what really is, sometimes because her perception of an incident is different from someone else's. In the process of finding the truth in her family, Jeanne finds herself . . . or the beginnings of what she is going to be.

I found this to be an uneven read. I got very tired of "Jeanne the idiot savant, if you drop the savant part" as a character. Fortunately, Jeanne gets past this fairly quickly, although she doesn't realize it nearly as soon as the reader does. The WIJ mystery is peripheral to the main plot for much of the book, although when it does re-enter the story, the reason for it being there at all makes sense.

The ending, although certainly upbeat in the book, left me feeling flat, as though there should have been a little something more. This reminds me, in a vaguely humorous way, of Like Water For Chocolate. One or two of the recipes look to be worth trying; I'm not a big fan of 'food with peppers', which rules out most of them. If you like spicy, there are several which sound quite good.

I won't run right out to buy Antieau's other works (THE JIGSAW WOMAN and THE GAIA WEBSTERS), although I would read them if they crossed my path. I passed the title along to a friend who enjoys stories set in the Southwest and to one who enjoys books about cooking and/or food.

Reviewed by P. J. Coldren, April 2004

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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