Veteran novelist Malone offers a heady mix of love, marriage, and murder in a dozen southern-themed stories old and new.
Fans of Malone’s Cudberth Mangum novels (First Lady, 2001, etc.) will find enough old-fashioned whodunits to justify Malone’s dedication to longtime mystery impresario Otto Penzler. In “Love and Other Crimes,” Cuddy, the no-nonsense police chief of Hillston, South Carolina, investigates the death of fourth husband Wilson (Dink) Tedworth at the fifth wedding of Patty Raiford, a femme so fatale that a frat-boy from Haver University once fought a duel over her with a West Point cadet. “Invitation to the Ball” offers a Cuddy-less murder plot to unravel, complete with a con game that spans four generations. But some of the best stories in the volume are altogether crime-free. “The Rising of the South and Flonnie Rogers,” for example, is a moving portrait of a black woman who arrives out of nowhere one day “to start a job no one had realized they were offering her” with a white family in the sleepy town of Thermopylae and stays to raise their nine children and who knows how many grandchildren. Or “Fast Love,” the story of Blake Wintrip, who forsakes his legacy as heir to Wintrip Motors of Toomis to become a social work field coordinator and marry beautiful red-haired Meredith Krantzsky. Some even combine the best of both worlds, like “White Trash Noir,” the story of simple, literal-minded Charmain Luby Markell, whose murder trial shows how goodness trumps brains every time, and the title story, in which beautiful Stella Doyle is acquitted of a murder that haunts her for the rest of her life.
These thematically interwoven tales of 12 southern women end up giving a penetrating look into the values and mores of the New South.