Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Oranges and Lemons by Liz Bugg

Book:  Oranges and Lemons
Author:  Liz Bugg
Publisher:  Insomniac Press

2012 Home of The Con
Last week I had the honor and privilege of attending the Golden Crown Literary Society (GCLS) Conference in proximity to the fine city of Minneapolis.  If you’ve never been to one of these Cons, picture a hundred and thirty lesbians, three dogs, two men, and a motley handful of straight women who write lesbian fiction descending upon an otherwise white bread hotel in an otherwise familiar business park on an otherwise cool and rainy long weekend in mid-June.
While the mosquitoes resembled small bears with gossamer wings and sharp, pointy, sucking proboscises, the bacon from the hotel breakfast buffet was surprisingly transcendent.
My Twitchy Little Toolbox
Being a twitchy little dyke with geek-like tendencies, my favorite part of the Conference was Ellen Hart’s workshop on Writing the Modern Mystery. Not that I expect to be writing a modern mystery any time soon, but because listening to her talk about the technical aspects of writing mysteries gave me a pile of new tools for my Twitchy Little Toolbox.
Note to self:  The Structure of a Lesbian Mystery must include the following:  (1) Crime; (2) Detection; (3) Solution; and (4) Smokin’ Hot Love Interest with Sketchy Past and Tantalizingly Firm Breasts.
At some point during the workshop, various attendees evoked the sainted names of The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew.  As a kid, I read them and liked them, but for my money the best junior detective of them all was Donald J. Sobol’s Leroy “Encyclopedia” Brown.  Each tricky little story was a gem, rich in detail and full of inventive plots, brainy jokes, and clever metaphors.  The clues were complex and required the reader to question each detail and alibi, looking for inconsistencies and incongruities.
Better yet, the toughest kid in the book wasn’t the bully, Bugs Meany, it was the brainiac baby dyke, Sally Kimball.
Private Investigator, Callie Barnow hit the mean streets of Toronto in Liz Bugg’s debut novel, Red Rover, which won the GCLS Debut Author Award in 2011.  In the eagerly awaited follow up, Oranges and Lemons, Callie goes undercover in an advertising agency to find out who is swindling small sums of money from a long list of accounts.  While it’s freezing outside, things heat up quickly when the employee responsible for bringing Callie in to investigate the theft dies from an insulin overdose.  As Callie continues to collect information from the firm’s remaining employees, she hits an artistic snag when the Creative Team won’t accept her as one of them.  Cue Dewey, Callie’s best friend-cum-superstar drag queen, who poses as a fabulous client using the ad firm to vamp up his growing image and website.  The dynamic duo pound the icy streets of Toronto and begin to collect information and sniff out clues, but the bodies keep piling up.  In the blink of an eye, Callie comes face-to-face with the rapidly decompensating big bad itching to spill the beans, and the two begin a frightening overnight arctic odyssey that very well may leave Callie’s longtime girlfriend and new fiancée a widow.

Liz Bugg’s Oranges and Lemons is a solid, old school mystery that features a craftily flawed PI, a fabulous best friend and sometimes partner, a crusty by-the-book cop friend, and a cast of quirky and likeable supporting characters.   The pace is crisp and even, and Callie and Dewey are well written and believable.  The romance between Callie and Jess is sweet and supports the story rather than detracts from it, while June is the voice of order and conscience, and Svetlana is the eccentric genius next door.  Likewise, the wide cast of suspects are each brimming with ample opportunity, bushels of secrets, strong motives, and timely alibis--and the plot twists and turns with each new power suit Callie reluctantly dons.

There’s even a smokin’ hot love interest with a sketchy past and tantalizingly firm breasts.

The city of Toronto comes alive in Oranges and Lemons, and even becomes a central character.  The reader walks the streets with Callie, and becomes familiar with her neighborhood and its heartbeat.  We feel the gusts of icy wind, hear the crunch of frozen snow beneath our feet, and wrap ourselves in the comforting cloak of fresh brewed coffee. All of these are deceptive, though, because just as Toronto is much bigger than Callie’s neighborhood, so to is the danger and deceit that grows from a simple case of fraud.

Much like the Encyclopedia Brown stories of my youth, Oranges and Lemons makes the reader question each detail and alibi, and look carefully for inconsistencies and incongruities.  If there’s any lingering disappointment, it’s that the whodunit was a bit obvious, since all of the other strong suspects ended up dead.  Still, even with that, the evil twists and turns that follow the big bad reveal are taut and beautifully paced, and each page presents the height of exhilaration and depth of bottomless despair. 

The ending isn’t unexpected, but it is a satisfying, heart thumping, heavy breathing surprise.

There are many reasons why I want to read the third book in this series, and chief among them are finding out why Callie has panic attacks, how she came to have an unnatural relationship with her worry stone, who put the Xanax dispenser in her bathroom, and why the titles of these books are from schoolyard games?  Joking aside, Oranges and Lemons is a strong follow-up to Red Rover, and Calli Barnow has a solid future in front of her as long as the seamy side of crime abounds in the Great White North.

I’m giving Oranges and Lemons a 5.0 out of 6.0 on the Rainbow Scale.


  1. Great review! I've never really been a fan of mysteries but I'm excited to read these Callie Barnow series after reading your thoughts on the latest one!

    1. Casey - Thanks for stopping by TRR. I checked out your blog - great site, I'm adding you to my blogroll so others can keep up with you. Best of luck!

    2. I'll be checking out your site regularly too! Thanks!