Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Casket Case - Fran Rizer

Casket Case
A Callie Parrish Mystery
Fran Rizer
Berkley Prime Crime


Callie Parrish (named Calamine Lotion by her father, as it was the only pink thing he could think of at the time) works as a cosmetologist at a mortuary. It’s not a job suited to everyone, but Callie finds comfort in giving the departed a last bit of care and dignity. One of the downsides of the job is being “on call” when the brothers who own the mortuary are gone. If there’s a death, Callie is left to pick up the body. When the wife of “Dr. Melvin,” the small town’s beloved pharmacist calls, Callie comes, only to find Dr. Melvin facedown in the hot tub, with no coroner present. And a very young, new wife making the calls, with her very attractive brother by her side.

With that taken care of, Callie returns to her life as usual. There are outings with Jane, Callie’s best friend, who has been blind since birth. Jane is having problems with the new owner of her apartment building. The woman, Dorcas Lucas, is clearly bigoted and harasses Jane, treating her terribly from the outset. This culminates in a screaming match during Callie’s birthday party. The next morning, Callie discovers Dorcas, dead in a heap at the bottom of the steps leading to Jane’s apartment.

This is the third in a series (the first was A TISKET, A TASKET, A FANCY STOLEN CASKET) and my problem then was that the “zany factor” was way too high for my personal taste. In this installment, which works quite nicely as a standalone, the author seems to have toned that down quite a bit. Callie is still a bit ditzy, but she seems to have matured, which is good. Jane is harder to like, given her penchant for shoplifting (how does a blind woman know if anyone is watching her?) but still an interesting character.

The main problem here is that much of the first half of the book is slow, and reads more like a slice-of-life portrait than a mystery. Take my advice and pay attention. The author is laying the groundwork for all the action that happens in the last third of the book. There’s plenty going on at that point, with a few threads all coming together in the end. Callie has evolved into a character I can like, and if the author can solve the pacing problem, this will be a fine series.

Rating: 6
October 2008
ISBN# 978-0-425-22428-1 (paperback)


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