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by Julia George

Publisher: Manuscript

A madcap mystery romp in a coastal California college town, where students fit in studying after hitting the beach.

Down-on-his-luck Hollywood star Lance Steele (aka Pavel Popoff) is temporarily residing with his Russian-professor mother, Galya. Taking Lance’s “stepbrother”—a poodle named Kroshka (Breadcrumb)—for an early morning walk on campus, Galya narrowly escapes being crushed by the body of Chancellor (“Nazi”) Nottbeck falling from the campanile. As in most cozy mysteries, the local police believe the deceased died by accident (free climbing, in this case), but Galya is convinced he was the victim of foul play. She enlists, or forces, her son to investigate, drawing Lance/Pavel into a series of implausible but hilarious situations—e.g., hiding under a widow’s bed while Galya attempts to seduce the officer sent to inform the widow of her husband’s death. George exhibits a skill comparable to Janet Evanovich in crafting the zany ethnic matriarch, with Galya showing more depth and intelligence than Grandma Mazur. As a hapless pawn in his mother’s machinations, Lance is a sympathetic, likable fellow who can’t be blamed for his conflicted feelings for the delectable but young reporter Tiffany/Tanya. (In George’s hands, the fact that nearly every character has at least two names isn’t the least bit annoying.) While the combination of an extremely ethnic Russian in a groovy, surfer-infested beach town might seem unlikely, George not only makes it work, but turns it into a rollicking adventure the reader will not want to end. Detective Michael Lewis stretches credulity a bit too far with his willingness to overlook his former professor’s repeated meddling in a crime scene, but he’s so addled with lust for Nottbeck’s widow, how can he be expected to focus?

A wacky but wonderful new cozy by a talented author.