Thursday, October 21, 2010


A Crooked Little House
by Susan Rogers Cooper
Publisher: Avon
ISBN: 0-380-79469-1 January, 1999
246 pages, PB

This novel is less a mystery than an in-depth examination of a few weeks in the life of an entertaining and intriguing family in suburban Texas. The mystery of who murdered a young homeless woman is really the framework from which to dangle a whole houseful of family members from bright children to irascible mother-in-law.

Eloise Pugh is a romance writer. She lives in Codderville, Texas, in a home undergoing construction of a major addition. In addition to the construction workers, assorted pets, and three children plus a husband are in residence. Written in the first person, readers are treated to EJ’s often delightful, practical and frequently artful coping techniques.

These are wonderful characters, created by a writer with great skill and a fine eye for detail. There just are no missteps, even among certain characters who I doubt very much are a routine part of the author’s environment.

EJ’s family is happily preparing for the imminent high school prom of one of her charges. Their mood is abruptly shattered when EJ’s errant sister-in-law is charged with the murder of that homeless woman. Never one to simply accept apparent reality, EJ determines to save her reluctant sister-in-law by finding the real murderer. EJ’s path of detection becomes a wandering, twisting road of deception, doubt and several surprises.

Perceptively written, well-paced, “A Crooked Little House” is a lot of fun and
informative as well.

A Matter of Motive
by Michael Hachey
Avalon Books,
December, 2004
Hard Cover, 282 pages, $26.95
ISBN: 9780803496880

A lot of books are published every year in this country, far more than all the Internet, magazine and newspaper reviewers can possibly read, digest and then comment on. Here is one such that should have received more attention than it did when first released. Dexter Loomis is the only cop in Higgins Point, a small town in rural Wisconsin. As the novel opens, the mayor drops by and tells Loomis he’s being appointed chief, since the former chief abruptly left town.

Dexter is okay with that, mainly because he is yet ignorant of the gathering storm of crime about to descend on his town. Two suspicious deaths occur within days of each other, deaths that may or may not be related. In addition, Loomis has to cope with a loud and aggressive county sheriff who means to keep tight control of everything in his baliwick.

Loomis is smart enough, even though woefully inexperienced, to know he’s over his head and liable to sink quickly. So he calls the Wisconsin Department of Criminal Investigations for help. Enter an agent who has a direct connection to one of the murder victims. Since this is usually grounds for immediate recusal, the author has to work around this, which he does in a logical and clever way.

The writing is competent, smooth and the story develops logically as a reasonable pace. The book may be somewhat overly complicated, which leads to some unnecessary meandering, but the sense of the small community, its long time residents and the struggles of the principal characters provides a very nice if not exceptional novel of criminality and malfeasance in small-town America. Hachey’s tone and pace is just right for the setting, resulting in a very enjoyable reading experience.

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