Monday, June 23, 2008

BOOKS: Mystery Served Up BBQ-Style

It's June. My book bonanza from last Christmas is but a distant memory. My July birthday book bonanza is still 26 days away (not that I'm counting ... those three hours extra). My reading pile now consists of long-ago bought books and remnants from Yard Sales and my own Christmas Book Bag trips around to various clients. Up to the top of that pile floated Lou Jane Temple's Revenge of the Barbeque Queens. A cookbook wrapped inside a mystery!

Now, I'll be honest, I can't remember whether it was bought from a favourable review or survived trying to be given away at Christmas. But I do know I loved the focus character's name and I often read books, just because I liked what the author's have named their main character or characters. (Please see Skua September and Ethan Fortune in Alan Dean Foster's Icerigger series). Temple does herself a favour. How could you resist a mystery involving Heaven Lee?

No, Heaven Lee is not her birth name. That's Katy O'Malley. But between getting married a few too many times, becoming a lawyer and then a restauranteur, little Katy did a two-week try at swinging around a pole. She liked the stage name so much, she kept it. It fits the flame-haired (dyed) firecracker to a 'T.'

Revenge is the second of the Lee books, written in the mid-90's. It also happens to be Temple's second book. I mention this because there is much to like about the book. And some things that show a beginning writer just learning the craft. I took the occasion to head off to the Amazon site to see where the series stood, before writing this review. Turns out, I'm ten years behind and there are at least eight culinary-inclined, Lee-starring books out there. And the reviews of this book are almost as interesting as the novel itself.

What was most striking about the reviews are a couple of the real nasty negative reviews. In each case, they pulverize Temple's writing, saying it's no improvement on the first book in the series!! Now, I will tell you, if I don't like book one of a series, I NEVER GET to book two!!! Whatever possessed these writers to read another Temple book after hating the first one, I'll never understand.

This book entertained me. I have no interest in barbeque. The eight or so recipes included were just so much gibberish to me. Don't eat the kind of meat that passes for sport in Southern parts (you know, the places that hate hockey). I found the culture around barbeque contests interesting. I liked Heaven's Scooby Gang. The tone was light and edged close enough to occasionally edgy to make reading it a page-turner. And I wouldn't REFUSE to book-pile another book in the series. But I'm not immediately going out to read the rest of the Heaven Lee books.

That judgement might be a bit harsh. I thought there were a lot of logic holes in Heaven's behaviour, especially given the fact she was a murder suspect herself in the previous book. Her lack of communications in the day of the cell phone is less understandable today than it might have been back in '96 when she wrote the book. But even then, not leaving word when walking into a trap, is a contrivance that stretches credulity. Not telling her cop friend of known conspiracies and her cop friend not telling her of hospital shenanigans served no good purpose, save to further the plot. Not logical at all.

Ultimately, the mystery fails as a standalone test of Temple's writing. It hints at better, and the long string of books she's written now seems to indicate she's matured as a writer. That probably means I will get around to reading another Temple book. Eventually.

But, for right now, I'm all full up.

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