Death, Taxes, and Extra-Hold Hairspray by Diane Kelly is the third in the Tara Holloway IRS agent mystery series (available June 26, 2012).
Tara Holloway generally has a lot of boring days doing tax collections for the Internal Revenue Service. As an agent for the despised government entity, she’s very serious about getting what Uncle Sam is due. However, she hides her seriousness behind a smart mouth and a kind heart.
Tara rescued another agent, Nick, not long before this book begins, and smuggled him back home from Mexico. He’s very grateful to her and wants to help her any time he can. She avoids him until no other agent is available because, as she says, he “makes my girlie parts quiver in an unprofessional manner.” We’ve all been there.
Their first case in this outing involves a member of the Lone Star Nation, a radical anti-government group that doesn’t believe they should pay taxes. The bust is on a chicken farm and there is a lot of squawking involved before they even see the chickens. Not only do the agents confiscate a lot of supplies and guns, they break up a group betting on battling roosters . . . and cage the roosters to boot!
I really liked Tara. She’s not a picture-perfect beauty and worries like most of us about her not-so-bountiful areas, especially when she comes across the bubbly Trish of “Tune in for Trish at Ten” fame. She has great bounty and displays it proudly, especially for Tara’s boyfriend, Brett (who’s another good reason for avoiding Nick-of-the-quivering-girlie-parts).
The next case Tara and Nick work together involves the mega-church, the Ark Temple of Worship, which is led by the flamboyant pastor, Noah Fischer. Brother Fischer’s flock loves God and giving and, as a result, he and his designer-clad wife live in luxury (they ride the short distance from the parsonage to the church in a chauffeur-driven limousine, for heaven’s sake, and carry Louis Vuitton luggage to church retreats). Tara and Nick are convinced Fischer is not running a church but instead stuffing his own pockets and enjoy many of the good things in life with money intended to do God’s work under the umbrella of a tax-exempt organization.
Being a lifelong Southern Baptist, I’ve seen many of these churches sprout up across the country and some of them are led by godly men. However, many of them are shepherded by thinly disguised con men who seek to take advantage of those who feel a need (or a preacher-induced guilt) to give money for God’s work.
I thought it was interesting to see this situation from the viewpoint of the IRS. I had a good friend who was an IRS attorney, so I know they’re just people like us trying to do their jobs. Like many of you, though, I don’t feel so charitable toward them around April 15.
Author Diane Kelly has assembled all the elements of a good read in this little book. It’s got good guys and bad guys, and both use their guns. While she’s struggling to get the bad guys to pay their taxes, Tara is also fighting a growing attraction to Nick and a fierce sense of love and loyalty to her boyfriend, Brett. There’s also the jealousy she feels because it’s obvious Trish is going after Brett through his volunteer work with Habitat for Humanity.
That brings us to the extra-hold hairspray, a product of China that could keep hair from moving in a category-four hurricane. It belongs to Lu Lobozinski, Tara’s beloved boss, who’s going through chemotherapy due to cancer. Lu’s hairstyle of choice is a towering beehive circa the 1960s. Naturally she’d never be able to keep it in place without her “imported” hair product. When Lu begins losing her strawberry-blond curls, Tara vows to get her boss a wig just like her favored hairstyle. This, of course, is the biggest project she takes on.
An older clerk approached us. Given that her hair was a natural wiry gray, she apparently didn’t take advantage of her sales position to wear the merchandise. “May I help you ladies find something?”
“We’re looking for something in a strawberry blond,” I said.
“I think we can help you out.” She slid a pair of glasses onto her nose and gestured for us to follow her. “This way.”
She stopped on the next aisle in front of a straight pale blond wig with slight undertones of red. She gestured with her hand. “Here we go. Strawberry blond.”
The color was closer to Lu’s shade, but we weren’t quite there yet. “Got anything that’s a little heavier on the strawberry?”
The woman took a few steps forward and bent down to pull a display head off the bottom shelf. This wig was redder than the previous selection, but still too light. Lu’s color was a unique shade of pinkish-orange that was apparently one of a kind. We moved forward a few feet and she picked up another.
Still not quite right.
I reached into my purse and pulled the lock of Lu’s hair from the inside pocket where I’d stashed it. Fortunately, her industrial-strength hairspray had held the sample together.
“I’m trying to match this.”
The woman took the strands from me. “Is this from a doll? Or a stuffed animal?”
Will Tara throw the pseudo-preacher in jail for nonpayment of taxes? Will she be able to decide if it’s Brett or Nick she wants? Oh, and one I forgot to mention: will the Lone Star Nation take away her home? And most important of all, will Tara be able to find a strawberry-blond wig in a beehive style? Guess you’ll have to read it to find out. Take my word for it, you won’t be sorry!
Leigh Neely is a former newspaper and magazine editor. She currently does freelance work, blogs at womenofmystery.net, and recently published the short story, “A Vampire in Brooklyn,” which can be found in Murder New York Style: Fresh Slices. She is currently working on paranormal novels with a partner under the pseudonym of Neely Powell.
Read all Leigh Neely’s posts for Criminal Element.