In Janson’s (Mal Practice, 2013, etc.) mystery set in small-town Nebraska, an ice cream shop owner reluctantly assists her business rival when a dead body is found in his store.
This novel is a competent, cozy mystery of the dream-job genre, in which a sleuth is reluctantly drawn into an investigation when she’d rather be pursuing her desired career. Here, Mary Burke, who graduated from law school but never took the bar exam, spends her days trying to sell ice cream in her small hometown—that is, when she isn’t seething over the antics of Jeremiah “Jerry” Wilson, a Southern California surfer and slacker who’s returned to town to keep an eye on his crazy Aunt May. Unfortunately, Jerry has also chosen to reopen his ice cream parlor, but he isn’t in it for the money—instead, he gives the stuff away. When one of Jerry’s ex-roommates from Huntington Beach, California—the decidedly unsavory Angie—turns up dead in his store, Mary can’t help putting her legal mind to work to help the hapless man out of his fix. The predictable conflict between Midwest small-town values and the presumed sex-drugs-and-rock ’n’ roll lifestyle of Left Coast denizens is played for laughs; Jerry’s apparent stoner vibe, for example, turns out to be more Zen than zonked, and when he talks about selling grass, he actually means sod. However, his blissed-out naïveté can wear thin after a while. There’s some effective nastiness afoot, however, regarding roomies that Jerry tried, and failed, to pull out of destructive lifestyles, and the Nebraskans who hide venality under a wholesome facade. Underneath the high jinks, though, this is a mystery that plays fair and relies on the accumulation and analysis of evidence—rather than characters running around frantically until the solution falls into their lap, as is too often the case in mysteries of this ilk.
A light tale that will appeal to fans of the cozy mystery genre.