Metzman (The Hungry Heart, 2012) offers a mystery novel about a trio of women attempting to solve a string of murders in a Florida retirement community for people 55 and older.
When 65-year-old Celia, a resident of Boca Pelicano Palms in Florida, gets a call in the middle of the night from her friend and neighbor Marcy, also 65, about a vaguely described “big problem,” she wakes their 69-year-old mutual friend Deb, and heads over to help. Celia would do anything for Marcy or Deb—they recently talked her out of a suicide attempt, after all—but she doesn’t yet realize how her loyalty will be tested. When Celia and Deb arrive at the office of Melvin Onstader, the retirement community’s board president, they discover a nude, struggling Marcy “prone on the desktop buried up to her neck under….Melvin’s overweight, blubbery frame.” In order to protect Marcy—who’s only one strike away from eviction—they smuggle Melvin’s body back to his apartment. There, Celia discovers mysterious pills that point to foul play. Later, Melvin’s ex-wife, Edith, who succeeds him as board president, realizes something is amiss about his demise, and she blames Marcy. Then other community residents start dying under mysterious circumstances. Celia, widowed three years ago and only just coming into her own after a bad marriage and a lifetime of meekness, is determined to get to the bottom of the mystery. However, she’ll have to keep it all a secret from her 33-year-old daughter, Allison, who’s just moved in with her after leaving her husband. Celia finds out that all the women around her need something, whether it’s a new man or a 50-year-old list of cha-cha dance rules.
Metzman writes with humor and a sharp eye for characterization, as when she describes how Deb’s “rheumatoid arthritis…affected every joint and muscle in her body, except for her acerbic tongue.” The book is a pleasing blend of camp and procedural mystery, playing up the geriatric nature of the setting while also taking the concerns and passions of Celia and her peers seriously. Overall, Metzman has crafted a compelling and surprising whodunit whose plot likely won’t end up where readers expect. In the end, however, it’s largely a character-driven affair, and readers will enjoy the main trio’s moments of levity—as when they smoke marijuana in Marcy’s apartment or pick up men at Fritzy’s Rendezvous—as much as the twists of the investigation. The author artfully constructs each of these characters, giving them backstories full of regret and frustration that lend literary weight to their sometimes-comical present. Celia moved to Florida to spend her golden years in paradise, but the author shows how it now provides her an opportunity to look back upon her entire life: to correct mistakes, recognize injustices, and forgive her younger self for not always having enough strength. It turns out that retirement provides plenty of opportunities to turn things around—and to solve a few murders as well.
A thoroughly entertaining, lighthearted murder mystery.