Short Takes

Short Takes: Book reviews, in brief

November 9, 2013 

Fiction

Lowcountry Bombshell

Susan M. Boyer, Henery Press, 248 pages

Eccentric characters go together in Southern mysteries like, well, shrimp and grits. But Susan M. Boyer deftly shapes characters with just enough idiosyncrasies without succumbing to cliches in her engaging second novel. “Lowcountry Bombshell” surprises at every twist as Boyer infuses her lighthearted plot with a look at obsession with celebrity, unadulterated greed and an affectionate look at South Carolina.

Private detective Liz Talbot has a practical view of the world, despite her rather complicated love life. It’s the clients who come to her P.I. firm who are the odd ones. Her latest is Calista McQueen, a picture-perfect likeness of Marilyn Monroe. A recent transplant to Stella Maris, a fictional island adjacent to Charleston, Calista is convinced that someone wants to kill her and that it will occur on the anniversary of Monroe’s death.

Liz is intrigued but skeptical of Calista’s alleged similarities to the famous actress, from the names of her client’s former husbands to her celebrity-obsessed family. But there may be a more realistic reason for Calista’s fears than the Monroe resemblance – Calista is rich.

A light mystery melded with the private detective genre has proved to be a winner for Boyer, whose debut last year, “Lowcountry Boil,” landed on a couple of best-seller lists and won the Agatha and the Daphne du Maurier awards. She continues her lively storytelling in the highly entertaining “Lowcountry Bombshell.”

Sun Sentinel

Critical Mass

Sara Paretsky, Putnam, 480 pages

Since private investigator V.I. Warshawski took up with double bassist Jake Thibaut in 2009’s “Hardball,” her creator, author Sara Paretsky, seems to have renewed creative energy, evident in pages that almost seem to turn themselves.

The considerable action of “Critical Mass” (the title refers to nuclear physics) is set off when Warshawski’s friend, Dr. Lotty Herschel asks her to find Judy Binder, the daughter of Kathe, with whom Lotty grew up in pre-World War II Vienna, and Judy’s son, Martin.

That assignment takes Warshawski from her North Side Chicago neighborhood to a ruined downstate meth house in a first chapter that contains some of Paretsky’s tautest writing ever. The book’s narrative also moves between wartime Vienna and present-day Chicago, the misery of the Jewish ghetto and the luxuries of North Shore privilege.

There’s plenty of action, along with Paretsky’s usual dry humor. With entombments, solved mysteries, loose ends neatly tied, good writing and a little bit of love, “Critical Mass” is a thoroughly satisfying read.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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