Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Review: A Little Death in Dixie by Lisa Turner

I've found a new favorite mystery writer. Lisa Turner lives part of the time in Memphis, the rest in Nova Scotia, and this book is real Memphis. From the first page you feel the molasses-like drowsiness of a hot afternoon in Memphis, and some of the characters are southern belles and some of there men are large and slightly or more corrupt. Croquet plays a part in the story, and there is always the lazy but dangerous Mississippi River. Actually as I read, I was thinking of that new summer TV series, "Memphis Beat," and picturing the detectives as the stars of that show.

Suddenly though all that sleepy southern drawl is overtaken by a fast-paced, exciting story. The cover includes a blurb from Mark Nykanen, author of The Bone Parade: "Riveting Southern suspense. The pages turned so fast they were smoking."

I agree. Yesterday and today I was engrossed every minute and when I had to tear myself away to do something, I couldn't wait to get back to this book. Detective Billy Able is the main character and this poor guy is pulled first one way and then the other. First his partner seems to crack up and then either he's murdered or commits suicide. There is a family involved that includes every stereotypical southern feature (I kept thinking "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof") but yet these characters are so much more than that. The story in fact begins as one of the women of this family goes missing. Since she's a drunk, self-centered, and has run off for a binge before, it's a while before people begin to worry.

As each character is revealed more fully, the several story lines are full of twists and unexpected turns. Turner manages to tell the story so that you are reading along thinking you've got some character's number, and then find that there is a deeper mystery to that person. Every time something new is revealed though, you realize that there was foreshadowing but you missed it in the midst of all the excitement. You figure out the villain long before Det. Able does and the villain is such a creep I guarantee you'll hate him, and love it when he gets what he deserves. The fact that you know about him does nothing to ruin the book; you are too wrapped up in following Able's path to discovery.

It's complicated and yet easy to follow, and everything begins to merge toward the end. Not one story line is left out in the ether somewhere, everything gets wrapped up. Dialogue is never forced; people talk just like we really talk. I hate mysteries where the dialogue is just too, too witty. Almost everything about this book is well done. Just a few scenes struck me as too much of a stretch. It's 288 pages and that's just right.

This is a super book. If you like mystery novels, please look for it.

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