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Murder by Death

I read cozy and historical mysteries, a bit of Paranormal/UF, and to mix it up, I read science and gardening books on occasion.

The White Magic Five & Dime

The White Magic Five & Dime - Steve Hockensmith, Lisa Falco

Well.  That wasn't at all what I was expecting.


I bought The White Magic Five & Dime while I was home in the States visiting my personal mecca, the local Barnes & Noble.  The title was on my radar but I knew little about it, so I read the first few pages (something I used to always do when I had the luxury of buying my books in a bookstore) and the character and narrative grabbed me.


If not an actual by-the-rules cozy, I was expecting at least a story that stayed mostly within the cozy container: it had a cozy cover, a cozy title and the summary on the back certainly implied a certain amount of chick-lit, if not cozy, atmosphere.  But by the time I closed the book I had to admit that my cozy expectations were not quite met.


It's tricky; it's not like I could say this was noir, or hard-boiled, or a thriller, or a traditional mystery.  I can't say it was violent or graphic or gory.  It was none of those things.  I don't know what to call it: just a murder mystery, I guess.


First: Alanis's (the MC) mother was a con-man (using it in the gender neutral sense, because "Con-woman" sounds dumb) and she was raised without formal schooling, moving from town to city to town living in front of hotel room TVs when she wasn't actively participating in the cons themselves.  She doesn't even know what her birth name is.  


As an adult, Alanis's goal has been to live as straight a life as possible while having no contact whatsoever with her mother.  In this she succeeds, until her mother is murdered and she finds out she's been left a tarot card reading store-front and all her mothers belongings.  For reasons the author never really explains, Alanis feels compelled to find out who murdered her mother; one last debt to be paid.  It is certainly not because she cared about the woman at all - her mother was not a cozy con-man - she was a true grifter with no regard for her daughter or those around her and no redeeming qualities.


The murder mystery itself - well that one smacked me upside the head in the end.  The murderer never made it onto my radar; not even a blip of suspicion.  I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, for the author to swoop in and write the story equivalent of "psych!" but it didn't happen.


In spite of these unfulfilled expectations I enjoyed the book:  the writing was strong, the narrative solid - even the flashback chapters worked for me (and they almost never do).  I loved the MC, although her pragmatic cynicism at the beginning was disheartening.  She was confident, intelligent and self-aware and I cheered her on.  I enjoyed reading the bits about the tarot too; enough that I could see myself picking up a book that talked more about them at some point.


I believe this to be a stand-alone book.  If cozy isn't your thing, but want something that isn't explicitly dark, this book might be worth investigating.  Just don't go by the cover, the title or the synopsis.