Saturday, September 20, 2014

Book Review: The White Magic Five & Dime by Steve Hockensmith

I thoroughly and completely loved Steve Hockensmith's Holmes on the Range series, so I was very pleased to see he'd been writing another mystery.  I scarfed up White Magic Five & Dime the second it hit the public library shelves.
I was not disappointed.  It's freakin' hilarious.  (My favorite part is the tarot card reading given by the protagonist, who has no clue what she's doing.  Now, I think a lot of tarot cards are very pretty, and I know a little about them, but Hockensmith's description of each card used in the reading scene ought to come with a "swallow first" warning, as the reader will undoubtably spew/choke on anything in her/his mouth while laughing uncontrollably.)
This book is billed as a cozy mystery, but I think I'll term it "cozy noir" instead.  It's a bit darker than most cozies.
The basic plot is that a 36-year-old woman whose real name might possibly be Sophie, but who chose the name Alanis at age 18, arrives in a small town in Arizona because her estranged mother (with whom she's had no contact for 20 years -- and flashback scenes let the reader know why) has been murdered.  Alanis has inherited her mother's shop and apartment -- and apparently her teenage apprentice/flunky as well.  Alanis' mom has been a con artist for decades, so Alanis isn't at all surprised her mother was murdered.  However, she feels the need to find the killer.  Naturally, there's a handsome cop involved in this effort.
So far it sounds like the average cozy, doesn't it?  We have the female protagonist who falls within the correct age-range, the theme or hook (in this case, the tarot shop), a murder, the sexy cop who tries to protect/dissuade the protagonist, and the small town.
But, not only is this book funnier than any other cozy I've read before, it has very distinct dark elements.  Alanis was with her con-artist mom until she was a teenager; she is not particularly innocent.  Her past is dark.   She thinks nothing of breaking laws in order to bring about real justice.  She does not trust people easily, and therefore, she never falls into the usual cozy scenario of needing to be rescued by the sexy cop or other male figure.  I liked this side of the book.
Downsides?  Well, Clarice's side-plot secrets are incredibly obvious, yet it takes Alanis forever to figure them out, which is annoying.  But that's about all I can scrape up.
This is a great mystery read: funny, mostly cozy, and just dark enough to break the mold a bit.

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