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by Victoria Houston
Berkley Prime Crime, March 2004
304 pages
ISBN: 0425193322

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

It's Christmas week in Loon Lake, Wisconsin and Doc Osborne is out grouse-hunting when he stumbles across a lovely set of dentures. No body is connected to this find, which turns out to be the case more often than not when a set of dentures is found in the wild. This particular set is unusual for different reasons, which we become privy to at some point in the novel.

Doc Osborne does have to deal with dead bodies: two fully clad snowmobilers who rise to the surface of Loon Lake sans their legs from the knees down, and a frozen female buried in a snowbank wearing nothing but a set of festive holiday fingernails. Doc serves as the forensic dentist for Loon Lake, which is one way he can facilitate what he hopes is a burgeoning romance with Police Chief Lewellyn (Lew) Ferris.

Lew has to deal with all the usual small-town politics and nepotism while trying to get her job done within budget; as we all know, not an easy job anywhere, but sometimes harder than usual in a town economically dependent on rich tourist and fickle weather patterns.

Doc's children Erin and Mallory are visiting for the holidays, along with Erin's children. Mallory has more than a passing interest in Doc's neighbor Ray Pradt, who makes his money as a hunting/fishing guide in the appropriate season(s) and a gravedigger when the ground isn't frozen, along with a host of other paying jobs.

Ray is a character, one some people might not approve of; he can tell stories with the best of them, keep the women smiling, and get the job done, pretty much no matter what that job is. He knows just about everybody, can get to just about anywhere local, and knows all those behind-the-scenes connections so important in a small town which are so difficult for those "not from around here" to fathom.

Doc spends a lot of time in DEAD HOT MAMA trying to spend quality, non-business time with Lew. This isn't easy, and it seems that this is a pattern in their relationship. Lew seems like an interesting person, and I would like to have seen more of her personality, more of her character in this book. Doc is not a suave and sophisticated romancer -- he spends a lot of time feeling like he's 16 again, wondering if he's put his foot in his mouth, being convinced that he's pushed Lew when he should have sat back . . . it's kind of endearing to see this naive quality in a man who's got to be well into senior citizen territory. There are passing references made to both Doc's and Mallory's alcoholism, and the effects it had/has on the family. Both are currently in recovery, but well aware of how fragile that recovery is.

The plot hinges on some fairly high-tech medical developments involving organ sale and donation. There are parts of this book which may be a little more graphic than the reader might expect, considering the overall tone of the book. I personally found the information, and there is quite a bit of information conveyed, to be fascinating and more than a little disturbing. It is possible to skip some of the more detailed sections without losing the general information relevant to the plot.

This is the fifth book in the series. It is not necessary to have read the other four in order to keep track of who's who in DEAD HOT MAMA. Some of the comments made in passing, some of the references to previous history would probably have a wealth of meaning to someone who has read the series, but all it did for me was make me want to track down those other four books and read them.

Each chapter heading is a quotation having to do, one way or another, with fishing; I found them to be entertaining. I have every intention of finding the rest of this series and reading it, although I will be utilizing my library rather than my bookstore. If the rest are as good as DEAD HOT MAMA, they are books I will enjoy reading once, but probably not ones I'll reread.

If you like a small-town atmosphere, a mystery well into cozy territory, interesting characters, and a plot that will keep you guessing, then DEAD HOT MAMA is probably something you would enjoy.

Reviewed by P. J. Coldren, March 2004

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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