Dead bodies start to outnumber the tenants of a seedy apartment building in this sprightly mystery.
Di Redding has barely moved into the dingy Jewel Arms in St. Louis–sorry, Memphis fans, the mistitled novel is set almost entirely elsewhere–before a man turns up dead there with a diamond in his pocket and a knife in his back. An African-American man with bloody footprints in his hallway is arrested, but the case against him seems weak and biased, and the crusty, alcoholic detective in charge less than reliable. Di gets help from her late husband’s 50-something Green Beret buddy Elvin Suggs, a private eye who is at loose ends while he awaits a divorce from his floozy wife Cherie. Elvin has two big advantages in his investigation–an ebullient good-ol’-boy personality that disarms people while he worms information out of them, and Vanna, a giant Airedale terrier who bites bad guys, sniffs out corpses and blithely barges into places without benefit of search warrant. The Jewel Arms residents comprise a roster of people with shady lives or menacing vibes–the voluptuous hooker, the wife-beating medical student, the cross-dressing gun dealer and the nurse who can’t stand the invalid she’s taking care of. As Elvin sorts through likely suspects, new victims appear in surprising places, and an unsettling connection emerges that ties Cherie, her sleazy new boyfriend and his epically gluttonous brother to the goings-on in the building. Applewhite writes with a keen eye for setting and an ear for punchy dialogue. She does a fine job fleshing out the Jewel Arms’ tawdry milieu and peopling it with vivid but believable lowlifes. There is some haphazard plotting, and the climactic reveal is more blurted out than sussed out. Fortunately Di, Elvin and Vanna make for an appealing team of sleuths and readers are happy to follow along wherever their noses take them.
An entertaining, atmospheric read.