Friday, November 23, 2018

WHISKEY KILLS, second Top Shelf mystery, delivers cozy smiles and puzzle-solving thrills

(Top Shelf Mysteries #2)
Kindle original
$3.99 Kindle, $13.95 trade paper, available now

Rating: 4* of five

The Publisher Says: Big cities are known to be dangerous, but former New Yorker and bar owner Ricki Fontaine is finding the small town of Waterton, Ohio, is proving to be the murder capital of the world—well, at least her world.

The new Top Shelf is open for business, but business as usual for Ricki and the Shelf translates to another dead guy. Ricki’s friend, Ruby Fogarty, is charged with murdering her boyfriend by clubbing him to death with a bottle of whiskey. The police consider the case closed, but Ricki is convinced Ruby is innocent and sets out to find the real murderer. Although Waterton police detective Gabriel Russell is crazy about Ricki, he isn’t too crazy about her trying to do his job.

The killer’s not too happy about it either.


My Review: Here's another dose of Ricki-love. I read this earlier this year, right after The Body on the Barstool, and can't quite believe I didn't warble my fool head off about it then. But here it is, time to think about Yule gifting, and what better gift (or self-gift) than a charming, satisfying trip down the fantastical amateur sleuth trail. It's a welcome respite from reality's challenges and stresses to read a mystery.

We all know that real amateur sleuths would be firmly and unkindly squashed by the real police. We also know that a real-world case of murder wouldn't be a safe, or even sane, place to insert your amateur self. That makes these fantasy outings safe ways to get our ma'at needs met. We all love to think Right is always served, that justice being done doesn't go unrealized by the law's wiggle room for miscreants. That is a need commonly unmet by real life. I suspect that isn't a surprise to anyone what can read this blog, eh? So stories, as ever and always they do, fulfill this deep and abiding need for us. We are Ricki the accidental bar-owner-sleuth for the time it takes to read the story. We are alluring to the handsome, long-ago crush object/enemy Gabriel...working out another normally unmet need to get the one that got away.

Frank, the murder victim, is just nasty enough to trigger another ma'at need: Clear out the drain of selfish, self-centered people that sink to the lower level of our lives. Ruby, a good-hearted good-time gal, is the archetypal sympathetic screw-up friend we want to rescue. The stakes, being accused of Frank's murder, are the highest most of us can imagine facing. Ricki faces the troubles despite thinking Ruby's better off without Frank and if that means he's dead...well...eggs, omelettes....

Adam, Ricki' relationships are complicated and words for the relationships that begin within the modern iteration of family haven't been invented yet, so the explanatory labels are unwieldy: Ricki's ex-husband's used in the series as the invaluable practical ally/trusted support character. He's also a wonderful way to show that Ricki is a certain kind of person, a real menschy kind of gal, who looks past what in a lesser person would be a great excuse for a grudge against someone in order to see and care about them. Her mother and stepfather play a big enough role in this book for me to feel the gravity of parental love that Ricki really thinks she wants to escape. Events show her otherwise, as expected; but she also makes a key discovery about the way the past creates the problems of the present via this evergreen conflict of mothers versus daughters.

There are plenty of threads woven through this plot that attach to past events. That's really what I enjoy most about series mysteries. The present, the crime-solving bit, develops over time and relationships come and go, like real life; but the past, in a series, is a character of its own and comes to the fore as the sleuth moves farther from it. Well, in the series mysteries that I read, this is the case or I bail on them. In this book, Ricki (already shown to be someone whose past is part of her present, see: Adam) learns a lot about her love interest Gabe, and about the uncle whose death landed her in Ohio to begin with. It isn't all good, and in Ricki fashion she sees that it isn't all bad either. Events she had no part in are left for her to resolve. Like we all wish we could, she resolves them as best she can and in a positive way. That's a strong through-line in this series of books: Positive change. Managing what you start with to be better when you're done.

I will note that one subplot bothered me: The evangelist megachurch founders are way too caricature for me, and I'm as anti-christian as it's possible to be.
Everett Forman burst into one of the phoniest laughs I'd ever heard, while his wife tittered in a very ladylike fashion. I'm not much of a prayer, but I wondered if I should ask the Lord to keep me from barfing during dinner. If the reverend didn't improve his act, I was afraid I wouldn't be able to hold it in.
All's well that ends well, I suppose, but their twirling-mustachio "I'll get you, my pretty" OTT evillenesse detracted from my otherwise spotless love for the story.

Final Note: One entire star off for four uses of the hideous, cheesy, trashy w-bomb. AUTHORS OF THE WORLD: NONE OF THIS

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