Tour’s Books Blog

April 7, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: One Hot Mess by Lois Greiman

There are a handful of cozy mystery writers out there that have never gained the popularity they deserve and Lois Greiman is pretty high up that list.  Maybe it’s because she writes far more romance and only publishes a mystery every few years.  Maybe her lead character Christina McMullen isn’t whacky enough for the current trend in women’s cozies.  Or maybe it’s because this is only her 5th book.  Whatever the reason, it’s a damn shame.  Her books are well written and far better plotted than the run of the mill cozy/amateur sleuth novel.

It’s 11 AM and the gods of appalling coincidence are visiting Chrissy ‘Mac’ McMullen.  The very rich, silky smooth, insanely handsome father of Mac’s sort of boyfriend, LAPD Lt. Jack Rivera, is at her door.   The former Senator Manuel Rivera is as determined as he is elegant and polite.  Right behind him is the service man from SuperSeptic, nearly a week after she first called for help.  Mac surrenders to the inevitable embarrassment of having her septic system worked on while this suave hunk of an older man sits in her and messy living room with her equally messy self in tiny shorts and strained tee shirt.  Good thing she has great legs.

Senator Rivera may no longer hold national office, but he hasn’t lost his politicians touch – or his womanizing ways.  He wants Mac to help him on something and isn’t about to let much of anything get in his way.  He needs Mac to look into the death of a former campaign worker, Kathleen Baltimore.  Hiring a professional investigator would be like sending up flares, and the good senator has ambitions for national office.  The HIGHEST national office.  The one that sits on Pennsylvania Avenue.  Mac tries to get out of it, but the wily senator plays the big card of saying he had a dream that death would come to Jack.  Unfortunately, Mac had much the same dream.  Life is a bitch.

LA is having a late season heat wave that looks to last right thru Christmas.  Mac and her great dane Harlequin are trying to make the best of a sweltering evening when hunky Jack Rivera shows up at her door with a bag of food that same night.  He knows better than to expect Mac to actually have anything but cereal and Pop Tarts in the house – or cook anything edible. Jack makes shrimp Alfredo which they eat in record time.   Then, just as things get ………….. interesting, the senior is at the front door for Mac.  Jack and his womanizing father have a long and unhappy history.  Once again, Jack leaves in a snit and they never get to finish what they started.  That happens all the time to these two.  Book 5 and they STILL haven’t made it to the bedroom.

Next day curiosity gets the better of Mac and she calls the senator and hunts him down at Caring Hands, and after the senator swears Kathleen was not one of his conquests, she agrees to do some checking.  A trip to Edmond Park leads to a current lover – seems Kathleen was actually lesbian – an ex-husband, a cop interested in a date and a slightly drunk chatty guy who tells her about a second death, a downing of another former campaign Rivera worker.  Her years as a cocktail waitress come in handy at times. Seems the man, an excellent swimmer, was drunk when he fell in the water.   Kathleen bled to death after she apparently fell onto a saw in her furniture workshop.  Two tragic accidents, or not?  She talks to the senator, tells him she thinks there is something there and tells her to let it go.

Meanwhile, she calls her oldest friend, Brainy Laney, a blond bombshell with the IQ off the charts, for advice.  She’s up in Idaho on location filming her Amazon Queen series, but she still knows hen Mac is lying.  Her boyfriend, a complete geek with hair implants and more money than he can count, is still in LA.  She might not be thrilled by him, but Mac makes use of his skills time to time.  When she gets home, Jack is waiting for her wanting to know what the hell she’s thinks she’s doing.  They end up fighting over her helping the senator, the father he hates for the way he cheated on his mother and hurt her.  Her refusal to let go makes Jack just walk out.  For good.

Next day a thank-you and a check for $10,000 arrives from the senator.  Unfortunately, her counseling business isn’t all that lucrative once the bills for her overhead are paid and the new septic systems cost big bucks.  LA has more than its fair share of crazies, but she doesn’t get the rich ones.  After some soul searching, she asks advice from the supremely capable temporary replacement receptionist, Shirley Templeton.  Shirley doesn’t hesitate, takes the money.  Despite being told to stop, once the check is cashed, she feels an obligation to continue.  She goes so far as to ask D, a mobster back in Chicago that she sort of knows, for a little help.  He ends up in California.  He’s rich and he’s handsome and he’s scary as hell – and he comes all the way to LA to give her the answers.  He even brings Champaign on New Year’s Eve and gives her a midnight kiss.  She also manages to fit in a date with the horny cop from Edmond Park and the slightly drunk guy, who turns out to be a really nice and very rich man.  Both end badly thanks to run ins with Rivera and his dates.

Between seeing patients, Mac searches the internet, makes phone calls and slowly starts thinking about patterns.  Persistence helps her find another victim in Texas, where the senator started his political career as a mayor, and one in Louisiana, a cousin of the senator.  She keeps digging despite both the senator and Jack telling her to stop.  When she finds the fifth victim, she also finds a pattern – the first death was Monday, the second on a Tuesday, the third was Wednesday and the fourth a Thursday – just this past Thursday.  Mac decides to go to the funeral and see if the woman was tied to the senator somehow.  Seems she was from his hometown in Texas, but a registered Democrat, not a Republican, so she wasn’t a campaign worker.  Was she a mistress?  A chat with a woman at the funeral reveals that the one and only child the she and her husband had was conceived thru help due to her fertility problems.  Endometriosis. Now Mac is confused, but sure there really is a connection.  She just isn’t sure what it is anymore.

The story plays out over the weeks between Thanksgiving and early January.  Her big thrill is getting a port-a-potty in her yard before Christmas.  She goes to Helping Hands a number of times to see the senator.  Is he there so often because of the very beautiful Thea Altove, the daughter of the senator’s old campaign manager, a right wing Republican, Theo?  Staring at the poster board of her ‘victims’, accidental deaths all, she finally sees the other pattern in the crimes.

No spoilers.  One Hot Mess was a good read.   I did have both the who and why nailed, but the book left enough doubt I never got bored.  The ending was good.  Greiman has a neat style, but like many cozy writers wanders off track into vignettes of life.  That’s ok to a point, but so many aren’t resolved.  Several of her patients are recurring characters and it’s kind of like a soap opera following their stories over the books.  Her new receptionist Shirley is an excellent cast addition.  The book is very readable and has some very funny scenes, but stays focused on Mac’s obsession with unraveling the what and why of the ‘accidents’.  My one complaint – the on again, off again thing between Rivera and Mac really needs to settle down.

My Grade: B (4*)

Who would enjoy this book: Fans of Carolyn Hart’s Death on Demand books and Diane Mott Davidson’s Goldie Schultz mysteries.  My rating would be PG-13

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