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by Catriona McPherson
Midnight Ink, April 2019
312 pages
ISBN: 0738754129

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

This is the second in the Last Ditch Mysteries written by Catriona McPherson whose strong success as a mystery writer has been in a genre called by NPR "creepy psychological." The Last Ditch Mysteries, however, are in the cozy genre which McPherson appears to be gleefully tearing up.

There was a point, pretty early on, when I suspected that SCOT & SODA was actually a send-up of the cozy genre. Reading further, I wondered whether McPherson was proffering an actual argument that the cozy genre is itself a send-up of murder mysteries.

I finished the book. I never figured either one out. And it doesn't matter because McPherson is having the time of her skilled and creative writing life. This cozy is way over the top of creepy, mysterious, and fun.

Lexy Campbell has immigrated from Scotland to the United States and has landed in California, but not an ordinary California. It's a way-out California. Lexy lives on a tiny houseboat moored out behind the Last Ditch Motel owned by some of her new and bizarre friends and lived in by some others who are equally odd. The motel is barely making it–largely because of the oddities of the people living in it–so most of the crowd have day jobs to keep things going. Lexy herself is a therapist who sees her clients on the houseboat–they're weird but not weird enough to compete with the main characters.

It's Halloween and Lexy throws a party for her friends. Cleverly, she has lowered the beer in a net into the water under her houseboat to cool off and when a couple of her friends pull it up–Yikes!– there's a dead body tangled in it and the dead body has definitely been in the water longer than the beer has.

The police are properly wary of Lexy since the last book, SCOT FREE, when she solved a murder they couldn't solve by using her own unorthodox ways, but that doesn't slow her down one bit. As soon as she realizes that the police aren't making much headway with this dead "stranger's" demise, she's on it with some of her friend to help. They quickly discover that the "stranger" isn't a stranger at all, but someone who graduated from the local high school years and years ago and promptly disappeared right afterwards. He has probably returned to attend his class reunion and by asking all kinds of questions and looking through high school yearbooks, Lexy et. al. are able to put a name to the body. Further they connect him to the disappearance of a young girl right after that same graduation and push the police to investigate whether the dead man might have done away with the young girl and had to flee.

The setting is one of all kinds of relationships and living relationships and the characters use a stream of offensive language so off-handedly that it is habitual and applied to every circumstance. Once past that, the mystery is decently constructed, laced with humor, and solved effectively mostly – it's a cozy so it's an acceptable stretch.

§ Diana Borse is retired from teaching English at Texas A&M University-Kingsville and savoring the chance to read as much as she always wanted to.

Reviewed by Diana Borse, May 2019

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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