Saturday, May 14, 2011

Review: "Biggie and the Mangled Mortician" (1997)

"Her colors," Mrs Muckleroy said. "I took her over to this woman in Center Point that does your colors for only ten bucks. Meredith Michelle's a perfect Spring -- and Bunny, that's the woman's name, said that's real rare. She said only about fifteen percent of the women in the whole world are Springs. The majority are Summers and Autumns, That's why Meredith Michelle's going to look so splendid in that blue dress I bought her."

"Essie, you need to get back on your nerve medicine," Biggie said.

Synopsis: Texas grandma fights crime and big hair mentality. As told by her 12-year-old son, J.R.

Grade: A+

There's really nothing I don't love about the Biggie Weatherford mysteries, apart from the fact that as far as I can tell there are only five of them. I don't love that bit at all. If it were up to me, that number would have a zero after it.

Job's Crossing, TX, is one of those very very small towns where everyone takes a special delight in getting all up in each other's business and then busting out their family lineage when anyone complains. There are the beautician sisters, Itha and Vida Mae Boggs; the town ne'er-do-well, Cooter McNutt; Butch Jenkins, possibly the only acting sheriff in Texas who chases criminals in three-inch heels; and Biggie Weatherford, a no nonsense philanthropist and grandma to 12-year-old J.R. There's also lots of Dr. Pepper. It's just that kind of place.

In the second book in the series, Job's Crossing's undertaker just up and leaves for Houston, where everyone kills each other with much more regularity, and his replacement causes Itha to fall down in a swoon before he gets his ribs stove in in his own mortuary. Also, Meredith Michelle has her colors read prior to the Texarkana pageant, the new reverend (from Arkansas) gets twitchy around rats, there's a bigfootlike monster prowling the woods along Wooten Creek and Biggie's not letting any of the above stop her from raising the money to turn the old unused depot into a museum, commemorating the time Ma Parker and her boys blew through town and were unfailingly polite to everyone.

I read this book in a day. It was my day off, and I sat on the back steps with a cup of coffee and listened to the springtime, watched my dogs play in the dirt and enjoyed the heck out of this read.

Sure there's a mystery to be solved, but it's largely beside the point, which is how, incidentally, the author treats the story for about fifty pages in the middle. And I don't care. I love Job's Crossing and I loved this whole warm, sunny, Dr. Pepper-soaked story.

There's one recipe included at the back, for an oyster-flavored scrambled eggs (which doesn't really float my boat) but the book is filled to busting with lush and evocative descriptions of all the wonderful things Biggie's cook, Willie Mae, prepares for them day in and day out: devil's food cake with coconut frosting; cold boiled ham with potato salad and fresh biscuits; orange peppers stuffed with ground veal and rice; icebox rolls with butter.

At its heart, this is a story about building a chosen family and embracing your own small community, even when it perms your hair sideways (on account of shock) or breaks its heel running after bad guys across a parking lot (Butch).

Now excuse me while I hie to ebay to find the three missing from my collection.