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by Lori Avocato
Avon, April 2006
320 pages
ISBN: 0060837004

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

In 2004, when I was compiling my list of gay male sleuths, I read A DOSE OF MURDER, the first novel in Avocato’s Pauline Sokol series. It also introduced, as a secondary character, a gay cross-dressing medical fraud insurance claims investigator, one Goldie Perlman. I wasn’t very impressed with the book, but the Eddie Izzard-like character was an interesting concept. Thus, when the present book showed up in the RTE slush pile, I volunteered to review it. I was curious to know whether Goldie had evolved any in the interim.

Less than a chapter into the book, I knew I had made a mistake. By the beginning of the third chapter, I knew it was going to be a painful mistake. Pauline, as narrator, opens Chapter 3:

"I stood on my tiptoes to try to see myself in the tiny sink’s mirror, since there wasn’t any room for a full-length mirror around here. Damn, but a uniform did wonders. I looked spiffy in the white top and "trousers," as Betty had called them. I had pulled my hair up to look more professional and thought I even looked a bit sexy. Neat. Couldn’t hurt on a singles cruise."

Spiffy, neat, and sexy, indeed. Our vocabulary-challenged but plucky heroine is 35 and still searching for Mr Right. Or rather, she is waiting for her handsome, darkly enigmatic fellow investigator, the eminently desirable Jagger, to realize she’s M. Right. ("Some girls had their comfort food, like mashed potatoes and gravy or chocolate or wine, but me, I had . . . my Jagger.")

It seems that the insurance agency for which our ex-nurse-turned-investigator works suspects medical insurance fraud aboard the cruise ship The Golden Dolphin. It just happens that a vacant post for a nurse has turned up on that same ship. So our heroine must once again put on her nursing cap, pick up the career from which she fled, and go off, not very happily, to sea.

Not alone, however. Goldie and his boyfriend decide to accompany her. And then – guess what! – her pushy mother and easy-going father, along with Uncle Walt and his new girlfriend, show up at the last minute as well. (Clearly this ship was not booked to capacity.) And they won’t be the last hometown folks to make it aboard. That heartthrob Jagger arrives in Chapter 5. One expects the Hope Valley mayor, city council, and fire marshal any minute.

The first body also shows up in Chapter 5: another nurse, her French cabin mate, whom Pauline suspected of sarcasm (you just never know about the French, what with that accent). So the investigation takes off in a new (and entirely expected) direction. Along the way, there will be lots of quips, passion, interferences from mother, disguises, tight situations, screams, kisses, and – oh, you get the general picture.

I have no idea why, among all the choices available to mystery readers, anyone would choose DEEP SEA DEAD. Okay, so $6.99 plus tax is not a lot of money. And maybe all novels that cost $6.99 are as bad. I don’t know. I don’t want to know. Though I do confess to some curiosity about the 'ideal reader' for whom this book was written. Obviously not me.

And, by the way, Goldie is far less interesting in this novel than he was in the first.

Reviewed by Drewey Wayne Gunn, May 2007

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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