Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Making my day -- a review of ABSINTHE OF MALICE

Canadian author Lou Allin posted a wonderful review to the DorothyL listserv. My ABSINTHE OF MALICE character -- Penny Mackenzie -- just loves the attention. Here's Lou's review:

Absinthe of Malice: Deliciously Dangerous
                 Penny Mackenzie lives with her mother and has an unfulfilling job as "Lifestyle" editor on the San Joaquin Valley's local newspaper, The Pearl Outrider. She envies her energetic and driven friend Maxie Harper, who writes the news stories.

                 Both women hunker down in the countryside on a stake-out following a rumor of trouble later that night with a group of young pot smokers: "Digger Potts's cotton field was a thing of beauty. Dense and green, with bits of white fluff popping out of the bolls, it stretched from Peach Orchard Road to a line of cottonwood trees overlooking a dry slough." Problem is, the kids unearth something frightening and flee the scene. The mystery involves a hunk of dirt and a collection of human bones, just recent enough to be a problem. Whatever happened here may involve Pearl's older citizens. Maxie wants to roll the story, but the timid new owner doesn't want anything upsetting his ship. This is a police matter, and his paper needs to cater to local needs, not chase scandals.

                 An old college beau of Penny's has returned to town. Watt Collins, dashing enough to turn any girl's head, now has his own Investigations firm and begins flirting shamelessly with her: "He was as ruggedly handsome as ever. Face just a little thinner maybe, dark hair smudged with gray, same long, thick eyebrows above eyes still hot enough to melt wax. His expensive white cotton shirt was open at the throat, sleeves turned back at the wrists." Best of all, he's divorced. Should she take a second chance on life, or let it pass her by? Even her mother has a love interest.

                 Meanwhile, there's a hot time in the venerable old town. Pearl's 100th anniversary has arrived, and not only has a book been commissioned about the founder, the eccentric Simeon Swann, but a gala "Dinner in the Round" has been planned, the kick-off first course served in his about-to-be-refurbished mansion. His son Layton and daughter-in-law Merrily will preside at the festivities, with Oysters Merrily a specialty: "The sun was almost down, a smear of melon red through the trees. Under crepe myrtles and wisterias dripping purple blossoms, Pearl's business boosters sat at round tables covered with pink linen tablecloths.." The scene is set not for dining but for mayhem.

                 During the gala, someone very dear is discovered dead on the dusty top floor of the mansion. The death is gruesome. What makes it worse is that Penny was on the phone with the victim, but learned nothing about the attack. She vows to find the murderer, perhaps with the help of their neighbour, Chief of Police Barney Press.

                 How far back does the mystery go? Rumors have always surrounded Simeon Swann and how he made his fortune in the Gold Rush, crushing anyone who got into his way. A treasure may be at stake and more than one person involved in protecting a personal fortune. Wherever she goes, Penny is met with more lies than truth. Can she even trust Watt Collins? Is he trying to use her or vice versa?

                 With a wealth of history and a thriving fruit industry, the San Joaquin Valley has been a neglected part of the US for mysteries, and Pat Browning accepts the challenge. In addition to spinning a complex and page-turning plot, she toys expertly with romance between Penny and her old flame. Who could resist liking Penny, with her Audrey Hepburn aspirations?: "I built myself a spectacular hairdo. I stuck the glittery brooch right at the top of it. God help me, I was gorgeous..but it wouldn't work."

                 Browning also captures the woof-and-warp of a small town newsroom, which walks a narrow line between big news and small news for its demanding subscribers as it struggles in the on-line age. This charming and alarming small town with its collection of eccentrics and colorful history is a perfect place to set an amateur sleuth novel. The clever title is a mere appetizer.

Lou Allin


And hallelujah, I'm a bum! A million thanks to the talented and gracious Lou Allin.

1 comment:

  1. What a wonderful review! And I whole-heartedly agree. This is an excellent book and I highly recommend it.
    Marja McGraw