Monday, March 12, 2012

Jess Lourey, NOVEMBER HUNT: Quirky and Humorous Crime Fiction

Reading Jess Lourey's Battle Lakes, Minnesota, mysteries -- "by the month," starting in May, so this is her seventh -- is a lot like going to a movie theater after mostly watching videos at home. There's all that wide-screen drama ahead, with full sound and bright color and two hours of not being interrupted by the phone or work. But even before you get into the screening room, there's the candy counter: stocked with those old familiar chewy, brightly colored, funky old candies that say childhood and vacation, and you buy a packet even though you know they're way more fake than the high-cocoa dark chocolate that everyone now says is actually good for you ... and you bite down, on one of the orange or red ones, and it's just plain fun.

And that's a Jess Lourey book in a mouthful: fun. NOVEMBER HUNT opens with a snowy, bitter-cold scene set during "muzzleloader" hunting season, as two old friends anticipate the chance to shoot a deer. But when the scene turns deadly, there are no antlers involved. In some ways, the "killer" and "victim" are nearly spelled out right here, in the first few pages.

But is the shooting intentional? If so, why? What's at stake? Soon the victim's daughter Hallie asks for help -- via the notorious Mrs. Berns -- from substitute librarian and private-eye-in-training Mira, hinting that the death is definitely murder, not accident. Mira's reluctant at first. After all, she hasn't exactly finished reading Private Investigating for Morons. She doesn't have a PI license or even a gun. She does, at last, have a boyfriend, although the side effects of a hair growth supplement she's taking may put that into doubt. Most important, she's got curiosity, kindness, and a Minnesota giant helping of spunk.

Besides, Mrs. Berns -- one of Mira's deliciously outrageous older women friends -- won't let her off the hook:
"Now, now. You're a real dick deep down, even if you don't yet have your license." Mrs. Berns' eyes glistened. "Take your future by the reins." 
Plus, a collection letter for Mira's student loans arrives like a sign demanding that she tackle the work. Last but not least, someone leaves a threatening message on her phone. The only way out of the situation is to get through it, find the motives, the murders ... and survive.

If you enjoy Janet Evanovich, or a good Donald Westlake caper, you're in for a treat at Lourey's hand, giggling in recognition and groaning with Mira at life's bizarre twists. You might even want to go get a package of Chuckles or Jujubes to chew on as you read. After all, Mira's munching those Minnesota junnk-food masterpieces called Nut Goodies.
Needing to self-medicate, I stopped at the Apothecary to purchase a fistful of Nut Goodies and a Chia pet herb pig. Sugar and gardening, I though. I'll get through this with sugar and gardening.  I went home and got ugly.

Monday found me three pounds heavier and no wiser.
In the long run, Mira and her friends figure things out, almost in time to prevent more mayhem. But it's going to take a pair of high heels, a few misleading actions, and a lot of risk to get there. No matter how many goofy slips happen along the way, Lourey still delivers motive, means, opportunity, and a plot that -- despite the snowy sidetracks -- leads to an "aha!" solution.

The Battle Lakes, Minnesota, mysteries so far:
May Day
June Bug
Knee High by the Fourth of July
August Moon
September Fair
October Fest
Coming next: December Dread, later this year.

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