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by Heather Webber
Avon, June 2004
256 pages
ISBN: 0060723475

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Nina Quinn is your average married female small business owner: she has more day-to-day hassles than she has time for. Her husband, policeman Kevin Quinn, comes home one day with lipstick on his boxer shorts; Nina doesn't wear lipstick, and even if she did, it wouldn't be that color. Riley, Kevin's son by a previous marriage, is 17 . . . 'nuff said, even before one factors in the discontent with the marital problems in the house.

Nina's business -- Taken By Surprise, Garden Designs (TBS) -- is booming, which can be a mixed blessing in terms of available time and resources. And the hoes are disappearing -- then reappearing. Nina hires ex-cons (because she's a sucker, as she is the first to admit) and isn't quite sure what is going on or who to suspect. Nina's sister is getting married and Nina is the matron of honor, except she has yet to be fitted for her dress. Nina's neighbors are notorious for their curiosity, nosiness, attention to what's going on around them.

One of Nina's friends, Bridget Sandowski, is finally pregnant. Nina's husband Tim was on the verge of leaving her until this happened; their marriage still seems, to the uninterested observer, to be a little uneven. Tim's mother is mourning the death of her husband Joe, who may have died from the cancer he'd been fighting or from the coffee found in his tractor. Bridget was suspicious about the coffee because Joe never drank coffee. She had the coffee analyzed, and it had been poisoned. The police are skeptical, and when they send the thermos off to have it re-analyzed, the thermos disappears.

Bridget is not surprised by this. Odd things have been happening around the Sandowski family since Joe turned down a multi-million dollar offer for the family farm. The family is convinced that the police are in the pockets of the developers and/or the local Congressman, who want the farmland developed.

Nina volunteers to look into some things, since she can do a lot of running around in her capacity as a landscape designer with lots of jobs all over town. Bridget agrees, only to have Tim urge Nina to back off. Nina won't stop asking questions, even while she is trying to cope with Riley's problems at school, some of which involve a local gang, the Skinz. Then somebody else gets killed, and Nina is a suspect.

There is an awful lot going on in this little paperback. I wasn't sure at first that Ms Webber hadn't bitten off rather more than she could chew. By the end of A HOE LOT OF TROUBLE, my fears had been relieved. Nina dithers a bit more than I like to see in an amateur female sleuth, but mostly it works. She doesn't quite get it all figured out, although the suggestion is clearly made that she was headed in the right direction.

I'd like to see more of some of the secondary characters in future books, in particular Tam, the secretary at TBS, and Mr Robert McKenna, the vice-principal at Riley's school (who certainly has the potential to be a future love interest if things don't work out with Kevin). A HOE LOT OF TROUBLE, in spite of the cutsiness of the title, is a very readable mystery and Heather Webber has a lot of potential in the cozy mystery field.

Reviewed by P. J. Coldren, June 2004

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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