Monday, November 27, 2017

Caught Dead Handed by Carol J. Perry

Reviewed by Jeanne

Lee, aka Maralee, Barrett has just returned to her hometown of Salem to interview for a job as a television reporter.  She’s been away for several years, gone to college, married, and been widowed.  She’s at loose ends, and this seems a good way to reconnect.   Aunt Ibby, the woman who raised Lee after the deaths of her parents, still lives in Salem and would welcome Lee back home with open arms.  Unfortunately, Lee quickly discovers that the prospective job is already taken by a photogenic male reporter before she even gets an interview. She angrily leaves the station, only to find a body floating in the ocean near the station.

It’s Ariel Constellation, the psychic/horror movie hostess for the station. As the police investigate, Lee is hired to take Ariel’s place as the new hostess for “Nightshades.” She quickly discovers the station is run on a shoestring budget, with employees expected be pretty much jacks of all trades.  She also finds she’s supposed to play the part of psychic as well, answering callers’ questions during breaks in the movie.  

In addition to her job, Lee also seems to have inherited Ariel’s cat.  Orion, redubbed O’Ryan, is a chubby orange tabby who makes himself right at home with Lee and Aunt Ibby. Lee should be pleased, but she’s upset when she thinks she sees something in Ariel’s crystal ball.  Also, it appears that some people believed Ariel was a real, practicing witch. . . and they seem inclined to think that Lee is one too.  Given that Ariel was murdered, Lee may need to watch her back.

Mysteries with a touch of the supernatural have become quite the thing lately.  For me, the most important parts of almost any book are that I like the characters and that the writing is well done; the rest is just trimmings or, occasionally, a real bonus.  

Lee is a confident young woman who is also intelligent, kind, and thoughtful.  Her marriage was happy until her husband’s untimely death but while she still grieves, she’s going ahead with her life.  This is my kind of heroine.  I confess I’m a bit tired of the air-headed, needy lead characters of some series; I find myself wanting to tell them to grow up.  

I also like the way that the supernatural elements are handled.  Lee has occasional visions when she looks into dark, reflective surfaces, something she tries hard to avoid, but these little glimpses are often difficult to interpret.  While Lee finds the idea of Ariel being a genuine psychic to be highly doubtful, she treats those who do believe with respect.  She takes a crash course in Tarot for her performance and explains how fake psychics can make people believe they are getting real answers.  It’s a fine line to walk between skepticism and belief, and Perry does it very well.

Supporting characters are also well done, especially the lively Aunt Ibby and O’Ryan. Ibby is a strong, intelligent, lively woman who trusts Lee to do what she thinks best, and has a love for old movies from award winners to cult classics. She’s also a reference librarian with a good sense of humor. O’Ryan is a friendly orange cat whose behavior will seem very familiar to anyone who has had a cat, but he also may be a bit more than he seems.  While he doesn’t talk or overtly solve mysteries, he takes a great interest in Lee’s investigations and may be subtly guiding her.  Lee certainly wouldn’t think so, and readers are free to decide for themselves. A touch of romance in the form of a handsome detective rounds out the book.

One very small detail that said a lot to me is that Lee’s late husband was a NASCAR driver. That opened the door for all sorts of stereotypes, but Perry declined to walk through it.  Instead, the main take-away was that he taught Lee about driving so that she has a love of fast cars and the knowledge of how they work.  His name also gives her an “in” to talk to a possible witness.  

A strong sense of place adds to a book as far as I’m concerned, and Perry does a good job with keeping her audience grounded in Salem with clear descriptions and interesting bits of history about the town.  In addition, we are taken behind the scenes at a small TV station, where most of the staff have multiple responsibilities and nothing is particularly glamorous.  I watch my local news a little differently now.

The plot was creative and I was surprised a bit at the conclusion.  In a few instances, Lee was slow to pick up on clues but overall I found it nicely executed.  It’s the first in a series, and I will definitely be reading more.

The series in order: 
1.       Caught Dead Handed

2.      Tails, You Lose

3.      Look Both Ways

4.      Murder Go Round

5.      Grave Errors

6.      It Takes a Coven (due out in 2018)

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