Mystery Books for Sale

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by Fran Rizer
Berkley, October 2007
288 pages
ISBN: 0425218007

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Callie Parrish likes a quiet life. That’s why she gave up teaching kindergarten when she divorced and started a new career as a mortician’s beautician. She figured that the mystery books she avidly reads gave her all the excitement she needed.

But that was before she found the hypodermic broken off in the neck of a man who supposedly died of accidental drowning, got stuck in the middle of the catfight between his current and first wives, dodged a business rival who wanted to gloat over the sight of Bobby’s corpse, accidentally joined the scene at a fatal shooting, and got bashed over the head the night Bobby’s coffin was stolen. And then there’s the person who wants her to return to Middleton’s Mortuary . . . as a client.

Rizer tries to start her new series off right, but the elements never truly cohere. The characters sound like she wrote them off a standard cozy checklist: Sweet, slightly neurotic, nosy heroine? Check. Embarrassing but loving family? Check. Really weird best friend? Check. Sexy possible love interest? Check. Exasperated home town sheriff? Check.

None of these characters rises into three-dimensionality, and most have far too many quirks loaded onto them. For instance, the blind best friend makes a living giving phone sex and likes to shop by pretending to have been assaulted by salespeople so that managers give her merchandise.

Callie herself tries, but isn’t a particularly appealing heroine. She is too cutesy. She continues to “kindergarten swear” – saying silly words instead of profanity – even when her life is in danger, and refuses to pass on anybody else’s “non-kindergarten level” language as well, putting the audience on the level of a five-year-old. She peppers the first-person narrative with deliberately misspelled words: “buh-leeve me,” “excuu-ze me,” “so-o-o-o-o-o-o good,” and makes a point of pointing out that she refuses to write a chapter 13 for superstitious reasons.

The actual mystery comes off worst of all. Although the sheriff, for no discernable reason, is already calling Callie an amateur sleuth, her only real contributions to solving the mystery are being present when plot points happen, bugging the sheriff for information he usually refuses to pass on, and gossiping to her best friend.

She spends more of the narrative worrying about her love life and discussing how much she’s inflating her new pump bra than doing any investigating or applying the methods of the fictional counterparts she constantly mentions. When it comes to actually doing some detective work, what is her reaction? “I should have spent the afternoon analyzing my theory. Did I do that? Ex-cuuse me.”

No, excuse me, Callie Parrish and Fran Rizer. I’m going to stick with books that spend more time on clues than cleavage and don’t assume I’m too young to hear the dirty words.

Reviewed by Linnea Dodson, October 2007

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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