Normally, I veer away from cozy reads but I had to try this because of the setting, since I've been to Mackinac Island numerous times. I am thoroughly smitten with these characters and this author's style of writing. I have laughed until I cried at some points in this book and I'm definitely planning to read more of this series - if there will be more (and I hope so!).
I have just had a unique experience. I read Duffy Brown's latest book, Geared for the Grave, the first book in her new Cycle Path Mysteries series. Let me tell you a little about the story; if that doesn't do the trick, I'll explain why the experience was so unique.
Start with the setting. This story takes place on Mackinac Island. You may not know about this unusual place; I certainly didn't. It's our country's second National Park, right after Yellowstone. It's a tiny, 3.8 square mile island in Lake Huron, just off the coast where the main part of Michigan meets the Upper Peninsula. I've been over the Mackinac Bridge several times, but had no clue about this resort island that can be seen from the bridge.
They are no motorized vehicles on the island. Transportation is all by foot, bicycle, or horse. It has been that way since before there were motorized vehicles. Architecture is controlled to ensure that all buildings look like they were built in the late 1800s. Some 492 people live there year-round, but on a good summer tourist-season day, 15,000 tourists will be on the island. One of the trademarks of the tourist trade are its candy and fudge shops. Tourists, thus, are called "fudgies." I kid you not.
I don't think there are many places so ideal for hosting a good cozy mystery story. This is way more interesting than your normal New England bookstore or coffee shop or Southern book club or hair salon. It's new; it's different.
After the setting, we have the characters. You'll never meet so many characters with so much character. Here's a sampling (there are many more, equally interesting):
" Our ever-resilient heroine, Evie Bloomfield,
" Evie's boss's father Rudy, the crusty owner of a failing bike shop,
" Murder victim Bunny, a formerly rich, annoying busybody,
" Rival bike shop owners Speedy and Huffy (really!),
" Irish Donna, who plays up the "faith and begorrah" and inverted sentence structure shtick,
" The mysterious master of disguises everyone calls Jason Bourne because they are convinced he is a hit man.
They are unique. They are lovable, despicable, unpredictable, and wacky in that curious way that makes perfect sense only in this unique time and place.
When detestable senior citizen Bunny is offed by having her bike's brake cable cut at her house at the top of a really, really high hill, the community cannot let this be known for a couple weeks until after the big Labor Day holiday. If the fudgies knew of a murder, they would stay away in droves. So the merchants prevail upon temporary replacement police chief Nate Sutter to let them keep Bunny on ice in the back of the grocery store's walk-in freezer until after the big holiday. To keep the secret, when discussing the murder case among themselves, the residents refer to it as the Bunny Festival.
Circumstantial evidence points strongly at Rudy, so Evie has to investigate to prove his innocence-or lose her job back in Chicago, where Rudy's daughter is Evie's tyrannical boss.
I'm no Duffy Brown, so my feeble efforts to set the stage may not have given you the senses-reeling sensation of being with Alice down that rabbit hole, but reading the book will definitely have that effect. That brings up the only problem I had with the book. We drop into the story in with the clamor and commotion of events already moving at full tilt. I had a bit of disoriented confusion until about ten pages in, when the people and places seemed to finally snap into focus. From there on, it was nothing but pure fun.
What a talent Ms. Brown is! I've only mentioned the merest hint of all the wild, unexpected, and yet somehow believable wackiness that you'll find in this funny, funny book. You have never read anything like it. How often can you say that about a cozy mystery in this day of rigidly controlled cozy mystery formula publishing? Oh, many of the formula's elements are surely here. We have the hot bachelor cop, the moderately good-looking 30ish single female lead character with a deadbeat former significant other in the background, a small business to run, and the obligatory cats. They, however, do not define the story. They're just there as appropriate background elements in the larger flow of unpredictable, increasingly funny events.
I don't know if Duffy Brown qualifies as a national treasure yet, but she's certainly on her way to becoming a beloved leading light in the mystery world. I stand in awe of her untrammeled creativity, comic sense and timing, and ability to draw us merrily into a whirlwind of delight as we read her books.
By the way, if my references to "cozy mysteries" mystify you, don't worry about it. Those who read that genre will know about and love this book. Those who haven't a clue and don't really care about such a genre will also love this book. Anyone with even a rudimentary sense of humor will love this book.
This review was written from an Advanced Reading Copy of the book provided to me at no cost by the author. The free book did not affect my opinion of the book at all. (And, of course, you know that here on PaperBackSwap, you can't trade ARCs anyway.)
This was a DNF (do not finish) for me. I quit after about 100 pages. There were a dizzying amount of characters that I could not keep straight, and I was not interested enough in them or the murder to give the book any more of my time. I love the author's consignment shop books, so I'll just stick to those.
To be honest, the major reason why I wanted to read Geared for the Grave was its setting, Mackinac Island, and author Duffy Brown paints a fine picture of just how magical this place can be. She also serves up some delightful humor with the euphemisms locals use to keep tourists in the dark about what's going on.
Evie is a delight as well, with her lack of grace, her passion for painting, and her knack for finding all the poison ivy patches on the island. She was in such a rush to make Brownie points with her boss that she didn't even read up on Mackinac Island, so its steep streets and lack of motorized transportation throws her for a loop-- and that loop catches many of the locals, too, who find Evie to be a bit of a handful.
I enjoyed the entire cast of characters even though Irish Donna's "brogue" didn't sound right. (I almost wanted to ask Donna if she were in the Witness Protection Program and using an assumed identity.) And in the midst of all the humor and getting acquainted with Evie and the islanders, I found a good mystery. Towards the very end I realized that I didn't have a clue whodunnit, and I just managed to figure it all out before Evie did. It certainly was a close race.
The only problem with finishing the book is the fact that I've got to wait for the next episode. Hurry up, Duffy-- I want to go back to Mackinac Island!