In Janson’s (Mal Practice, 2013, etc.) mystery set in small-town Nebraska, an ice cream shop owner reluctantly assists her business rival when a dead body is found in his store.
This novel is a competent, cozy mystery of the dream-job genre, in which a sleuth is reluctantly drawn into an investigation when she’d rather be pursuing her desired career. Here, Mary Burke, who graduated from law school but never took the bar exam, spends her days trying to sell ice cream in her small hometown—that is, when she isn’t seething over the antics of Jeremiah “Jerry” Wilson, a Southern California surfer and slacker who’s returned to town to keep an eye on his crazy Aunt May. Unfortunately, Jerry has also chosen to reopen his ice cream parlor, but he isn’t in it for the money—instead, he gives the stuff away. When one of Jerry’s ex-roommates from Huntington Beach, California—the decidedly unsavory Angie—turns up dead in his store, Mary can’t help putting her legal mind to work to help the hapless man out of his fix. The predictable conflict between Midwest small-town values and the presumed sex-drugs-and-rock ’n’ roll lifestyle of Left Coast denizens is played for laughs; Jerry’s apparent stoner vibe, for example, turns out to be more Zen than zonked, and when he talks about selling grass, he actually means sod. However, his blissed-out naïveté can wear thin after a while. There’s some effective nastiness afoot, however, regarding roomies that Jerry tried, and failed, to pull out of destructive lifestyles, and the Nebraskans who hide venality under a wholesome facade. Underneath the high jinks, though, this is a mystery that plays fair and relies on the accumulation and analysis of evidence—rather than characters running around frantically until the solution falls into their lap, as is too often the case in mysteries of this ilk.
A light tale that will appeal to fans of the cozy mystery genre.
A YA novel about a pet cat with magical powers.
Janson (Mal Practice, 2013) tells the tale of a cat whose instincts and mysterious powers create both havoc and harmony for the family with whom he lives. It all begins with Mildred, who’s surprised to be scratched by Onyx, her otherwise loving cat. The scratch is bad enough to warrant a visit to the hospital, where they are fortuitously able to diagnose her cancer and treat her before the disease can spread. Onyx goes off to live with Mildred’s niece Sally and her grandnieces Bridgette and Renee, who are especially taken with the black cat. Onyx spends a lot of time staring through neighbor Gladys’ window and then, out of the blue, he scratches the poor woman. Once again, a trip to the hospital is in order, and once again, it’s just in the nick of time to save Gladys from cancer. The otherwise friendly cat goes on to scratch unsuspecting folks, along the way solving problems both mental and physical. It’s clear that, more than his hapless owners, the cat seems incredibly aware of what’s going on in the world around him; in his own way, he protects them and their friends and helps make the world a little better. There’s no clear protagonist in this narrative that, despite some uneven pacing, moves along fairly quickly. Described as a YA novel, the episodic story feels more like a middle-grade book, with its 12- and 13-year-old characters often referred to as “young ladies.” However, some strong language—and the fact that about half the book focuses on the lives and interactions of the girls’ parents—means this book doesn’t fit neatly into any genre. At times, 12-year-old Renee acts younger, as when she exclaims, “We had to give them our fingerprints, Dad!” to which her father quips about making sure she gets them back.
Infused with magical realism and some quirky capers but may struggle to find an appropriate audience.
In Janson’s (The Child in Our Hearts, 2012, etc.) first mystery, a pediatrician sued for malpractice finds himself at the epicenter of a far-reaching conspiracy.
Eastern Kentucky native Joe Nelson owes his medicine practice to a fortuitous accident: In his youth, he was a coal miner, and a roof collapse during a routine excavation left him trapped. Thanks to a courageous, quick-thinking doctor, Joe made it out—as an amputee, albeit, but still alive. Years later, he has paid that salvation forward by pursuing a career in pediatrics. All is well until 4-year-old Linda Murphy dies in his care, and the toxicologist’s report reveals an overdose of Lidocaine as the cause of death. Joe’s insistence that he provided the correct dosage pales in the face of a malpractice suit brought on by Linda Murphy’s extremely wealthy, powerful family. With his questionably competent defense attorney, an imminent but strangely amicable divorce from his wife, a blossoming romance and a determination to uncover the true circumstances of Linda’s death, Joe has his hands full. Snooping into medical records and investigating potential profiteers earns him enemies on all sides—the hospital, the courts, even the local police force—and sets into motion a race against time. Regrettably, the mystery at the heart of the novel is bordered by clumsy, often distracting syntax: “The server was there almost immediately as if he had been waiting for them to be ready to order, which he probably had been.” As often as the story hits its stride, it is mired by awkward turns of phrase, repetition—“The grounds were kept and lit well…They arrived at the plaque at the center of a well-lit area”—and bland dialogue. Janson’s experience as a physician shines through in the clinically written sections, particularly the court proceedings and explanations of medical procedures, which are professional, articulate and deftly handled. While the grand reveal satisfactorily ties numerous loose ends together, it’s diluted by its predictability; astute readers will likely guess (or at least suspect) the criminal mastermind a quarter of the way into the book.
A debut effort that’s ambitious in scope but often limited by its unsteady execution.