Saturday, January 29, 2011

Review: Chile Death, by Susan Wittig Albert (1999)

Chile Death by Susan Wittig Albert:

"Sure, come on over," shae said, when I reminded her that our morning conversation had been interrupted. "In fact, come for supper. I made potato salad and marinated some chicken. Clyde's gonna put it on the grill so's I can take a load off my tired feet. We won't have a thing in the world to do but sit in the yard and criticize his cooking."

Synopsis: Breezy, sassy culinary mystery featuring the unsinkable China Bayles, this time helping her shot-in-the-line-of-duty boyfriend get out of his depression by assisting when he judges a chili cookoff. Which totally would have worked had someone not dropped dead in the middle of the contest.

When the book begins, China Bayles has been knocked for six, as her longtime companion Mike McQuaid has been shot and paralyzed while chasing bad guys. More than the physical injury, the accompanying depression McQuaid feels at the long road to recovery is threatening the relationship. Good thing life gets complicated.

Chili cookoff. Lottery winnings. Dead body. Nefariousness at the nursing home. Small-town gossip. Unexpected partnerships and new beginnings. Skydiving. Arson. Ranching.

I really look forward to finding these books at the library. They're long, easy reads that function the way cozy mysteries are supposed to: it feels like someone's telling you a story, with all the asides and meanderings that entails. The best parts of life are the asides and the meanderings, I say. The vast majority of the book is written in present tense, which is a darn hard thing to pull off, but China Bayles has the voice to do it. Also, China's such a well-rounded and appealing character that I definitely think of it as her voice, rather than Albert's.

It's that voice plus the straightforwardly meandering storytelling (there is a whole lot of Texas placeporn in this series) that keeps me reading, even when, at one point in this story, in real life China would have gotten the tar beaten out of her for making the choice she did.

This is not real life. This is a cozy mystery. A darn good one.

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