May 25, 2011

BOOKS: Crunch Time, Diane Mott Davidson (2011)

16th in Davidson's mystery series about caterer Goldy Schulz.

And for a 16th volume, it's a pretty good book. It's not surprising, certainly; you get the usual cast of characters, the standard light cozy-ish tone (though with a bit more on-page mayhem and violence than usual), and ten of Goldy's recipes at the back of the book. But the story is involving and the cast of suspects is more interesting than usual.

The story involves Goldy's friend/assistant, Yolanda, and her great-aunt Ferdinanda, a Cuban refugee and one-time member of Castro's army (a past she loves to talk about). When their rental home is burned down, they move in with a local private investigator; his murder has Yolanda fearful that a stalker-y ex-boyfriend may be out to get her and her aunt.

It's a wide ranging tale, involving missing jewels, marijuana farming, puppy mills, and an MIT-educated hooker. There are, as always, a few moments where Goldy's sleuthing skills seem a bit much for a caterer with no real training in the field, and her cop husband is way more talkative about the case than any real cop would be. But that's par for the course in the amateur sleuth genre.

Half the fun of a good mystery series is dropping in on all of the regular characters, and Davidson doesn't disappoint on that front. But she's also given us some colorful new characters and suspects. Ferdinanda is a delight -- a cranky old woman who knows more than she lets on, and isn't quite as deaf as she'd like everyone to believe.

If you haven't read any of the earlier volumes, you needn't fear being lost; Davidson is very good at filling in the necessary background without making you feel as if you're drowning in exposition. This sort of light mystery doesn't get as much respect as the grittier end of the crime spectrum does, but it's a special kind of art in its own right, and Davidson is one of its best practitioners.

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