First line: "The phone rang, and I answered it."
Alanis McLachlan is not at all surprised to get a phone call saying her con-artist mother has been murdered. She is, however, surprised to find out her mother bequeathed her an inheritance. So she packs up and heads west to Berdache, Arizona, where she finds her mother's shop, The White Magic Five and Dime, as well as her mother's very-much-living young tenant/side-kick, Clarice.
Keeping in true form, Alanis' mother (now known as Athena) had set up a regular gig in Berdache, conning people through tarot card readings.
Alanis feels she owes her mother a very old debt and to pay it, she's determined to find out who killed her. As she digs into the evidence, she learns a bit about tarot, finds a slew of people with potential motives, and spends more than her fair share of time with the handsome detective of the Berdache Police Department. However, Alanis also discovers more than she bargained for. She may be out of her league, but it's all in the cards...
I was so excited to get my paws on this book. Many of you who have been reading here for awhile know I am a fan of Steve Hockensmith's Holmes on the Range series and was very disappointed to hear that it was dropped by the publisher. So news of a new adult series was welcome music to my ears. Even better, The White Magic Five and Dime didn't disappoint my high anticipation!
The book is a lighter side of the mystery genre and is probably classified within the cozy realm. However, if you're averse to profanity, you may want to steer clear. While it's not inundated with swearing, Hockensmith also doesn't shy away from it.
What else does he not shy away from? Smart humor. Absolutely one of the things I love most about his writing is the humor and this kick-off to a new series is steeped in it. The beginning of each chapter has a card from the tarot deck with a quote from "Miss Chance, Infinite Roads to Knowing." This is a book Alanis is supposed to be reading to better understand the tarot. The quotes about the cards are cheeky but simultaneously insightful--about life and the coming chapter:
"Strength card: Is the woman closing the lion's mouth, opening it, or giving the lion a handful of tuna Pounce? You decide. What's important is that even the King of the Jungle is just a big pussycat if you approach him without fear. WARNING: This applies to metaphorical lions only. The author of this book is not responsible for attempts to give real live lions handfuls of tuna Pounce. --Miss Chance, Infinite Roads to Knowing"
This approach to the tarot best sums up the whole book. There's an element of mockery but also an openness, a willingness to learn. And the complexity of this novel adds to the fun. The various levels of meaning in the story's events challenge the reader to see beyond a simple whodunit. Even the protagonist's name is steeped in potential meaning.
Great humor and complex plots are super, but if the characters fall flat, it's hard to compensate. The White Magic Five and Dime doesn't need to worry about that, though. The characters are dynamic, fun, empathetic and even unpredictable. Hockensmith throws some impressive curve balls into the mix that are character development more so than plot twist, and that engages the reader with the characters, creating strong connections and investment. The minor characters, like a withered old man from the retirement home, enrich the story with color and heart. I found myself hoping they would make regular returns in future series installments.
There's no doubt about it, I'm thrilled to have more Steve Hockensmith--and Lisa Falco--to look forward to. The town of Berdache will never be the same. I'm still disappointed that the Amlingmeyer Brothers have been given a hiatus, but I'm excited to welcome Alanis McLachlan onto my bookshelf!
The White Magic Five and Dime is available in trade paperback (ISBN: 978-0738740225) from Midnight Ink.