Mystery Books for Sale

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by Donna Andrews
Thomas Dunne Books, February 2004
293 pages
ISBN: 0312277326

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Public rooms of the hotel transformed into an artificial jungle with monkeys swinging from the light fixtures and parrots imitating hotel sounds left and right. People in costumes of varied nature and mode brushing fake fronds aside and shoving away the monkeys. This must be a fan convention! And it is. A con organized by the Friends of Amblyopia, fans of a low budget TV series, Porfiria, Queen of the Jungle.

And why is ordinarily level-headed Meg Langslow involved in this mania? Her boyfriend Michael plays one of the key characters and must participate in this convention according to his contract. Meg figured she would take a booth in the dealers' room and sell swords and other items fans might want to buy. She is fortunate to share the table with another sword seller who is willing to work most of the time leaving her free to wander.

Meg's father is present, having the time of his life. All he needs is a murder to investigate to send him into ecstasy. Her mother and nephew Erik are also attending as well as the aggressive little dog Spike. And finally there is a tiger, suitably caged of course. What jungle would be complete without its resident tiger?

The show was based on a series of graphic novels written some years before. The aging star of the show, the Queen Bee as polite language would have it, bought the story and owns the TV show. She spins her spider web and orders her minions about, appearing when she feels it valuable and not appearing when she doesn't wish to. It is no surprise when the QB turns up murdered. Meg finds the body and while the police do not seriously suspect her, she is incapable of letting a murder go by without investigation.

Meg's voice is what pulls the reader into the book and involves her thoroughly in the story. It is a wry voice, a voice that can laugh at herself and describe others so that we see their idiosyncrasies and eccentricities. It is often a sane voice in the midst of a surreal world. She questions and probes and it is she who finally figures out the key clue to the solution of the murder.

The other characters, while distinctive, are less fleshed out than Meg. We meet them, enjoy them, laugh with them but do not expect to get to know them the way we know Meg.

While Meg's voice gets the reader into the story, it is the sparkling and effervescent humor that keeps us attracted. It is humor which rises out of situations, humor in what Meg describes and in what we see. It is never mean or vicious or spiteful and it is never meant to hurt. It is humor that liberates.

There is a crackling good story here too amidst the monkeys and the parrots, one of whom actually helps provide a clue. There are tentacles reaching into the past and all may not be what we see. But you will enjoy the journey very much. I'm not much of a laugh-out-loud person but I was smiling all the way through this book.

And the author never takes the reader out of the story. The prose flows seamlessly and effortlessly, it seems, which means the reader can just sit back and enjoy the fun.

Reviewed by Sally A. Fellows, January 2004

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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