Tour’s Books Blog

June 25, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: Charmed and Dangerous by Toni McGee Causey

Fans of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum pay attention, you have another screwball mystery to choose from in Charmed and Dangerous. Originally published in May 2007 as Bobby Faye’s Very (very, very, very) Bad Day by St. Martin’s Griffin in trade paperback, it has been re-titled and published in mass market paperback this month. Two additional books will be published later this year.

This is the first book by author Toni McGee Causey, a native of Louisiana and resident of Baton Rouge, who sets her tale in Louisiana bayou country around Lake Charles where tales of Jean Laffite and his buried treasure entice treasure hunters to this day. Bobby Faye grew up on them and dug more than her fair share of holes, but now all she wants is a day without problems. Lake Charles Contraband Day is the hottest event in town and Bobby Faye is the Queen, like her mother was before her, but there’s a hitch in the plan – a bigger one than her flooded trailer. Her useless brother failed to fix the water line to her washer and her trailer is sinking as the pipe fountains gallons out onto her floor. Her niece Stacey, staying with her while her sister Lori Ann is in court ordered rehab for her drinking problem, is more interested in the indoor pool than bailing it out, her electric is off because her check bounced, and the Child Services woman is due before the parade to see if she is a fit temporary guardian for her niece. Then things go really downhill.

Her worthless brother Roy calls and she hangs up on him. Again. Again. Again………. Until he swears on their mother’s grave he’s in trouble and she is the only way he stays alive. She must trade their mama’s tiara for him. It’s all she has left. She sold everything and took every dime out of the bank to pay for her sister’s rehab, that damn tiara is the only family heirloom remaining for her. Reluctant but resigned, she gets her best friend Nina, a fashion plate babe with a penchant for bullwhips, to guard her stuff and her niece, so the other people in the trailer park don’t steal everything while she’s gone to the bank and to rescue Roy. She gives Nina the only weapon she has – ice tongs. The folks in the trailer park have a betting pool going on whether or not Bobby Faye will kill someone before 10AM. That box in the pool caused a fistfight.

Bobby Faye heads to the bank in her beat up clunker of a car (and you think Stephanie Plum has car issues!). The scene where she whacks the engine had me laughing even though it felt a little like a rip off of the Joe Don Baker/Pierce Brosnan scene in Goldeneye. Bobby Faye finally gets the tiara, a simple iron one, from the safe deposit box and on the way out of the bank wonders why everyone seems frozen. Then the little man that was in line behind he demands her bag with the tiara in it and since he has a gun, you’d think this was a no brainer – but no has ever accused Bobby Faye of being normal. In the ensuing scuffle, Bobby Faye ends up with the gun but the two henchmen get the tiara, climb into a white Saab and take off.

Bobby Faye does the only sensible thing – by her measure – she hijacks a guy in a tricked out red truck and orders him to chase the white Saab. Now really, what are the odds that Bobby Faye would get the one guy who simply did not intimidate? Trevor not only does not intimidate, he also has a Glock. The chase ends up with Trevor Cromier’s precious red truck in the lake and Bobby Faye convinced that she’d finally met someone even crazier than she is. This odd duo end up chasing the bad guys and the crown with Bobby’s ex-boyfriend, Cameron, heading the police chasing Bobby Faye and some FBI guy named Zeke Wright beside him. That just makes her day right there!

Bobbie Faye blackmails, coaxes, and sorta tells white lies to get the job done as she races the clock to save her brother.  The mayhem is a riot at times, though the breathless pace can’t hide contrived scenes or some of the borrowing from other books of the type. You really can’t summarize the plot because it’s just to sprawling and despite the twists a you sort of know where you’re heading. The ending had a surprise though, so in addition to the fun, there are a whole bunch of ‘little mysteries’ that get resolved.

Bobby Faye Sumerall is a character worthy of Carl Hiaasen, but mostly she reminds me of a hybrid of Lisa Lutz’s Izzy Spellman and much imitated Stephanie Plum. Beside the ‘bad car karma’, Ms Causey borrows the double male issue of Morelli and Ranger and gives them to Cameron and Trevor. Heck, Bobby’s even Cam’s former girlfriend just like Morelli and Steph and Trevor is the buff action guy, but not a complete clone of the mysterious Ranger who we’ve only gotten to know by inches over the books. It’s a solidly redneck screwball mystery, even without  Grandma Mauser to shoot things, but that’s ok because Bobby Faye manages to shoot a truck all on her own. Twice. She’s has got her worthless sister, the alcoholic, and idiot brother, the gambler and her niece.  The atmosphere rings true to bayou country thanks to the author being a local.  ‘Write what you know’ really does help.  The pacing was nearly too frenetic.  In part this due to the time constraints of trying to get her brother back, but it also seems to be a stylistic thing.  I hope the second book slows down a bit and allows the reader a chance to catch their breath and enjoy the ride.

Like Lisa Lutz, Ms Causey’s writing style takes some getting used to. I admit I struggled with it through the whole book. The syntax, while realistic, is almost like reading in a dialect at times – which in many ways you are. Even so, the story moves at a breakneck speed and the characters just keep coming at you till you feel almost overwhelmed at times. Some of the funniest lines are used as chapter headers. One of my favorites heads Chapter 1:

“You know how some people are born to Greatness? Well, Bobby Faye Sumerall woke up one morning, kicked Greatness in the teeth, kneed it in the balls, took it hostage, and it’s been begging for mercy ever since.” – a former Louisiana mayor after Bobby Faye accidentally ran her car into his office, knocking pages of fraud evidence into the street, which helped land him in Federal prison.

And Chapter 40:

“Sir, we do not draft civilians into our foreign service, even if you think she’s ‘of the devil’ and would make a good spy. Please do not offer her to us again.” – Elizabeth Smith, CIA Undersecretary in a memo to the governor of Louisiana.

Yes, Charmed and Dangerous has its faults, but the chaos is fun and Bobby is always working to save her family and keep them safe – though the idea of shooting her brother has a lot of appeal! The book has enough plot and character to carry the 330 pages, though like Lisa Lutz, the mystery portion is very slight.  Two more entries in the Bobby Faye series will be released this year, one in July and one in August.  Like Charmed and Dangerous, Girls Just Want to Have Guns was published before as Bobby Faye’s (kinda, sorta, not exactly) Family Jewels.  The third book scheduled for August is brand new and titled When a Man Loves a Weapon.

My Grade: B- (3.9*)

Who would enjoy this book: Those who read Janet Evanovich, Lisa Lutz, Carl Hiaasen, Tim Dorsey and lovers of screwball mystery lite.  The rating for this book is PG-13.

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