This is the third book in Duffy Brown's popular Consignment Shop Mysteries. It features Reagan Summerside, who is recently divorced, blonde, and the proprietor of a struggling consignment shop she set up in her historic old home-the only thing of value she managed to hang onto in the divorce.
You will know you're reading something fun right from the start, when Auntie Kiki says "Oh for crying in a bucket, Reagan.... Time to put on your ironclad bloomers get to work," in the second paragraph. The southern folksy expressions are a lot of fun. They appear throughout the story, giving it a fun, lighthearted feel.
Reagan's ever-present sidekick is her Auntie Kiki, who lives across the street. Kiki is the slightly wacky wife of a golf-obsessed heart surgeon (aka Uncle Putter). We are told "Auntie Kiki was a roadie for Cher back in the day and never quite got off the bus. From time to time she bursts into Cher-isms whether they fit or not."
I enjoyed the first two books in the series. The necessary role of the handsome bad-boy love interest is filled by Walker Boone, a former gang member turned lawyer who is the primary reason Reagan lost almost everything in her divorce. Boone represented her ex-husband. Somehow, in spite of Reagan's lively hatred for him, Boone seems to show up repeatedly to rescue her from the dizzy and dangerous situations that seem to attract her about every 30 to 50 pages. By the end of this third book, their unlikely relationship is progressing nicely.
This time, the problem arises from Reagan's mother. Mom is a local judge, not always affectionately known as Guillotine Gloria. She's running for city council. Her main opponent, referred to as "Scumbag" turns up dead at an inconvenient moment. Judge Gloria is immediately suspected and arrested for the murder. The book plays out as Reagan, Auntie Kiki, and a supporting cast of almost believable odd characters work frantically to clear the judge by finding the real murderer.
As I read this third book in the series, keeping my literary eyes open for things worthy of a reviewer's comment, I began to realize that the book had gone beyond the normal mildly humorous cozy mystery and was approaching the status of a madcap, zany cozy mystery. Writing a madcap, zany cozy mystery is a real balancing act. At the moment, Janet Evanovich is the queen of the genre, somehow allowing us to suspend our natural disbelief and be vastly amused by the antics of Stephanie Plum and her bizarre associates.
I have to tell you, though; Duffy Brown has the talent to create the same kind of delightful zaniness that whisks you along believing (at least temporarily) the improbable and funny things that take place. I've read many authors who have tried to perform this most elusive balancing act. Duffy Brown does the best job yet. Her characters are not nearly as absurd as Evanovich's, but the pacing and near inevitability of the hilarious crash-and-burn consequences of Reagan's earnest plans work beautifully.
There is also the setting. Savannah, Georgia's quirkiness as presented by Brown is very believable. I have no idea if there is any truth in it at all, but it works for me as presented. I loved the local gossip network, the "kudzu vine," which is so efficient that by the time Reagan gets home from any misadventure, everyone knows all about it already. It's also fun to have Twitter and FaceBook play a big part in feeding the kudzu vine. I haven't seen that reality of modern life mentioned in many cozy mysteries yet.
There is a lot to like in this book and this series. It is wildly funny without going over the top in its efforts to amuse us. The series has a lot of room left for new things to happen. The Reagan-Boone romance, for one, will take a while to fully develop, and even this he-man male reader is interested in what will eventually happen. The murders so far in all three books make sense. Too many cozy mystery series have to invent increasingly unlikely situations to bring about murders for our heroes to solve. So far, that isn't a problem with this series.
Too many series also seem to wear out their charm and the potential for continuing interest after three or four books. I don't see that happening here.
I am anxiously waiting for the next installment. Get to work, Ms. Brown! Your fans are waiting for the further adventures of Reagan and Auntie Kiki.
The further Duffy Brown's Consignment Shop series goes, the more I like it. The setting and the characters are really coming into their own. Brown blazes a mysterious trail indeed, and lays enough red herrings along the way that even Reagan's hot dog-centric mutt, Bruce Willis, would be led astray.
The cast of characters is a strong one, all the way from sassy and stubborn Reagan to her nemesis (and romantic interest) Walker Boone to two elderly sisters who are professional mourners... all the way to Reagan's strait-laced mother (who's a judge known as Guillotine Gloria) and flaky Aunt KiKi, who was a roadie for Cher. These characters are growing and changing, and in each book we learn things about them that alters our perceptions.
There's also plenty of delightful Southern sass and humor, and as Reagan follows leads, we're treated to plenty of the beautiful city of Savannah, Georgia, along the way. Come to think of it, I must be getting hooked on this series because I worry about Reagan not being able to pay her bills. Not only that, I'm thinking that she really should get herself a less conspicuous handbag if she's going to take it along on her investigations! You can't go wrong when you spend an afternoon or two with Reagan and the gang.