Nine stories more notable for warmth than wit. Grape’s guileless criminals are ill able to conceal their guilt—fortunately, since her detectives show little ability to detect. “The Man in the Red Flannel Suit” asks why a little girl whose mother was killed by a hit-and-run driver is afraid of Santa Claus. Fledging mystery writer Robbie Dunlap helps her husband Damon, sheriff of Adobe County, crack homicides by observing the behavior of her writer’s group in “Arsenic and Old Ideas,” and by the testimony of a friend who’s checked into a death-ridden nursing home in the clueless “Ruby Nell’s Ordeal.” The remaining stories concern female partners C.J. Gunn and Jenny Gordon of the G&G Detective Agency. Whether they’re dealing with a choice between two unlikely suspects in “Whatever Has to Be Done,” a slain Romeo in “A One-Day Job,” a killing of mother and baby in “Kiss or Kill,” or a missing stripper in “Scarlett Fever,” the prose is stolid—Grape (Austin City Blue, 2001) is no stylist—the detection routine (“Most of my work involves checking backgrounds on people,” Jenny observes accurately), and the results unsurprising. A pair of kittens carry the heavy lifting in “Kittens Take Detection 101,” and the most complex of these tales, the Anthony-winning “A Front Row Seat,” is resolved by Jenny’s unaccountable flashback to a parallel situation from her childhood.
For all their often affecting emotional burdens, Grape’s people are just too nice to conceal their involvement in murder for long, and it’s a pure relief when each of them confesses.