Monday, March 14, 2011

Murder Takes to the Hills by Jessica Thomas

Book:  Murder Takes to the Hills
Author:  Jessica Thomas
Publisher:  Bella Books

Murder Takes to the Hills is the sixth installment of the delightful and quirky Alex Peres series.  For all you readers out there who aren't familiar with Alex, she's a sometimes PI sometimes nature photographer in Provincetown.  She and her partner, Fargo, the coolest black lab in literature, take on a host of shady characters while chasing disparate clues, eating too much pastrami, and drinking way too many Buds and Old-Fashions.  Her brother Sonny is a local cop, her best friend is a pilot, her girlfriend is a financial advisor, her mother is a hot widow, Aunt Mae grows herbs (the real kind), and Harmon the local loon chases the Mother Ship.   

It's a fun series with lovable characters, fairly intricate mysteries, and a vocabulary that would make Frasier weep with joy.  

In Murder Takes to the Hills, we find Alex and Cindy, along with Wells the cat and Fargo the dog, finally undertaking sweeping renovations on their home.  Even though they maintain Cindy's rented cottage as a relationship 'safe house', they are driven to distraction by the workmen, the mess, and the inconvenience.  At one point, the ever-immaculate Cindy has to be dressed by Aunt Mae . . . it wasn't pretty.  Harmon is convinced that several businessmen from 'outside Pittsburgh' want to have Cassie fly them and their drugs to an unlit cornfield in the middle of the night, and a stalker shadows and terrifies Cindy.  

When the girls have had enough, they grab Fargo, fill the car with snacks, and head to the lesbian friendly highlands of East Tennessee for a little rest and relaxation.

Of course, rest and relaxation is the last thing they find when they stop the car.  Once settled, they find themselves embroiled in a real estate scheme gone awry, and badly framed for murder.  They charm many of the locals, humiliate a dangerous bully, and hide a pistol under a sofa cushion before calling in the Senator, the Brother, and the State Police.  Crime Solved.

They return back to P'Town to find the stalker saga to come to a quick end, and then Alex finds that Harmon, while still wrong about the Mother Ship, was more right than anyone gave him credit for.  Crimes #2 and #3 solved.

Renovations complete.

Fargo bobs for pastrami in the new backyard fountain.

Most of the Alex Peres books have one central crime, conflicting clues, red herrings, and lively banter.  This book was a bit ambitious, and took on a host of competing crimes, the clues were fairly blatant, the red herrings more mauve, and the lively banter more restrained.  The story and all its plots seemed a little too much - as if there was so much going on, the whole story was watered down as a result.  For instance, the side plot of Cassie and the 'outside Pittsburgh" boys could have carried a book by itself, instead of being relegated to a nice little tie up in the last few chapters.

I also kept waiting for Alex and Cindy to really have a 'talk'.  Cindy seems to have developed a few new trust issues with Alex . . . not that Alex really did anything, they just sort of popped up.  But, after five books together, it seems like we should get to be privy to some of the depth in their relationship.  Instead, we know what Cindy wears, what they eat and drink, and that they love each other.  All good bits, again, I just want to be invited in for more of the connection that has developed between them.

Especially if the sex scenes usually start and end with, "And I followed her into the bedroom, kicking off my shoes as I anticipated licking the powered sugar from her lips."

I like Alex Peres, and want to read more about her mysteries and her interactions with the local P'Town color.  This wasn't my favorite book in the series, but it was still a fun romp with quirk, charm, and a handful of laugh-out-loud moments.

I'll give it a 4.3 out of 6 on the Rainbow Scale.

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