Tour’s Books Blog

April 2, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: Trouble in Mudbug by Jana DeLeon

I read Jana DeLeon’s first two books, Unlucky and Rumble in the Bayou, and enjoyed them, so when Trouble in Mudbug came out I bought it.  I’m glad I did.  Published by LoveSpell as a Romantic Mystery, the romantic part takes a back seat to the mystery.  In fact, through most of the first half or more of the book, Maryse Robicheaux, (A nod to mystery’s grand master James Lee Burke’s famous bayou detective Dave Robicheaux?) barely even sees Luc LeJeune, so calling it a ‘romance’ is kind of a stretch.  The ghost of Maryse’s late mother-in-law, Helene, has a bigger role than Luc, so I consider it more a paranormal cozy mystery.  Regardless of what you call it, it’s a good read.  Trouble in Mudbug is first in a series of Mudbug Ghost-in-law series.

Maryse Robicheaux and her best friend Sabine are in church for the funeral of Maryse’s mother-in-law from hell, Helene Henry, the richest woman in Mudbug but not its most loved.  Suddenly, Helene sits up in her casket and starts complaining – but no one seems to notice.  Maryse does her level best to pretend she doesn’t see her waving and yelling at people as she walks down the aisle, then faints when Helene does it to her.  That night, after assuring her friends Sabine and Mildred she’s really fine, Maryse makes a quick stop at the office.  A drop dead gorgeous stranger is sitting at HER desk!  Seems Luc LeJeune is a state zoologist on temporary assignment and will be working from the same office space.  Nosy man was trying to get into her computer ostensibly for business.  Hrumph!  She makes him feel unwelcome and leaves – being sure to close her computer down.  Damn it’s been a long day.

Marsey heads to her boat access only house out in the bayou to think about next day’s reading of Helena’s will.  Helene not exactly fond of Maryse.  For the last two years she’d been paying Helene back for the loan she needed to pay off the debtors her son Hank ran out on when he fled.  Would Helene leave her another bill?  Marsey is convinced the world’s goes mad when she sees Helene’s ghost walking on water to reach her house.  Helene claims she’s been murdered.  It’s obvious even to Mayse that Helene knows a lot more than she’s saying, but Marsey is stuck.  She wants Helene’s help finding her worthless son Hank so Maryse can finalize her damn divorce from the bum.  State law requires he be served.  Helene can’t move on till she figures out who murdered her and Maryse is the only one who sees her.  Neither is happy, but for the moment, they just might need each other.

Next morning, Maryse is racing to the office so she can get some work done before going to the lawyer’s office when her brakes fail and her truck goes off the road into the bayou.  Shaken up and stunned, she manages to get out, but her cell phone drowned.  It’s walk 2 miles to work because it’s closer than home.  Luc sees her and takes her to the hospital to get checked out and then drives her to the lawyer’s office.  Helene is there – much to Maryse’s disgust and distraction.  The bulk of her estate goes to an orphanage run by nuns.  Helene’s philandering husband gets nothing but an old run down motel where he used to meet his various ‘girlfriends’ and it owes back taxes.  Son Hank – Maryse’s almost ex-husband – gets nothing unless he cleans up his act for a year.  Maryse inherits a land trust.  Henry goes ballistic that Maryse got the trust.  Not exactly the most valuable part of the estate, so why is he so crazed?

What plays over 300 pages is a complex story.  There’s illegal dumping of toxic waste that Luc, an undercover agent for the Department of Environmental Quality, is investigating.  Then there’s Helene’s murder and the little fact she hid a land survey that said a billion dollars worth of oil sits under the bayou Maryse now owns – making her a prime target for Hank and Henry because Hank will inherit if she dies within 7 days of when the will was read.  The positive results on tests of plants, variants of Southern Lady Slipper, gives Maryse hope she’s found the one that local healer used to help her dad’s cancer.  Somehow the rest of the sample has gone missing and the university lab needs more.   And she has to find Hank and get those divorce papers signed so she can finally be free!

One of the funnier scenes is where Christopher, an old school mate and now a handsome doctor in town, and Maryse go for dinner at a fancy restaurant.  Helene disapproves of Chris.  Much to her disgust, Helene manages to get to the restaurant and ruin things.  She seems hell bent on ruining Maryse’s life even after she’s dead!  But the next night Helene ends up saving her life when she convinces Maryse that she saw someone tampering with her little bayou house and it could be rigged.  A rubber bullet fired at the front door triggers a huge explosion, so Maryse owes Helene big time.  Well, except for the fact it’s probably because Helene left her the damn land that she was bombed!

And so it goes.  The primary relationship in this book is not Maryse and Luc, or even Maryse and her best friend Sabine or substitute mother Mildred, its Maryse and Helene.  Not until page 220+ of 300 pages do Maryse and Luc finally get some action beyond a brief conversation and a single kiss.  Even that scene is brief and in the decidedly unromantic office.  A few conversations and an office quickie do not a relationship make.

Toward the last third of the book, Maryse finds out Luc can see Helene as well.  And Sabine gets used to the idea that Helene is still there, even if she can’t see her.  Even Mildred adjusts, but the secrets that Helene holds so close come out slowly.  And contrary to all expectations, it’s Hank who provides some key help.  Many of the questions are answered about Maryse, but even though there’s a confession in Helene’s murder, it’s not the man who confesses who actually committed the crime, so Helene is still there at the end of the book and will likely figure in the next installment that will center on Mayse’s friend Sabine.

Helene is not a warm and fuzzy person, but it turns out, she’s not exactly Satan’s right hand as Maryse always thought her to be either.  Flawed, yes, but not really mean and at the end, likable in a cranky, cantankerous way.  Maryse, hiding from the loss of her marriage, her father’s death from cancer and a lonely life, has isolated herself far more than she realized.  Both learn a lot about themselves.  In this, the book is far more than just a mystery.  DeLeon juggles the many plot elements neatly and injects some lively humor throughout without ever descending into farce.  Not an easy feat.

Overall, I’m very favorably impressed with Trouble in Mudbug.  I was kept guessing about not just who was trying to kill Maryse and why they were doing it.  The answers were believable, though some key information was held back.  That’s an annoying habit of cozy writers.  Though I had it figured out, it was just a good guess and I was not confident I was right.  What I really didn’t like was the kind of weak supporting role Luc played.  We never really got to know him, which was a shame and his relationship with Maryse was shallowly portrayed.  The story also lacked atmosphere, especially given the great choice of the Louisiana bayou location, which would have added a lot to the story.  It is  character driven, so its is forgivable, just regrettable.  I didn’t  mind DeLeon not wrapping up Helene’s murder as I was fairly certain that piece of the puzzle would not be part of this book.  I’m looking forward to the next installment.

My Grade: B  (4*) and a recommended fun cozy mystery read
Who would like this book: Fans of Jill Churchill, Alice Kimberly’s Haunted Bookshop mysteries and Madelyn Alt’s Bewitching mysteries.  My Rating would be PG-13

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