Sun
Sep 30 2012 10:00am

Fresh Meat: Mixed Signals by Jane Tesh

Mixed Signals by Jane TeshMixed Signals is the second novel in the Grace Street cozy mystery series (available October 2, 2012).

Mixed Signals is a cozy novel that has a heavier focus on characters than on crime. Yes, there is some mystery, a murder, and a few robberies, but it’s the people that keep the story going—people who are strange, as the old song by The Doors goes.

David, the PI, is a man who doesn’t try too hard to find balance in his life; he seems to thrive in anarchy, since that’s exactly what makes him forget about the painful past.

Kary, the love of his life, to whom he offers his hand in marriage time and again but to no avail, is someone who looks forward to a great future while truly enjoying living with three grumpy, old and not so old men. Camden, his best friend, is a psychic and suffers from violent flashbacks and nightmares. And Fred is Fred; an old and irritated, rather than irritating, man. This is the 302 Grace Street gang.

And then there’s Ellin, the power-hungry TV host-journalist.

Ellin Belton is the woman that Camden says he loves, which makes me question his sanity. She doesn’t have a scrap of psychic ability, but Camden says holding her hand helps him erase the worst visions.

David really doesn’t like Ellin and he definitely doesn’t like a young reporter called Brooke Verner, who’s likely to do just about anything to get a scoop; even invent a story when there’s not one. But these two are the least of his problems since during the next few days, and just before Christmas, he has to deal with a busload of weird characters: like the self-styled Parkland Avenger, who’s supposed to stop crimes from happening but who also occasionally seems to stand in the way of the police; like a cop, who’s an enemy and a friend; and like his mother, who’s just about to arrive and blow his world into pieces.

As we follow David and Camden in their adventures we meet a lot of redheaded women, quite a few geeks, and some wannabe heroes. And we take a good look into the tortured psyches of some people. And we laugh.

The author uses humor as the means not just to keep the story going, but also to keep the reader from looking deep into the darkness that seems to weigh on the souls of the two friends.

The colorful characters that surround David and Camden, their unconventional living arrangements, their everyday dealings with the world; all of the above help them sail a bit more calmly through life. David has anger issues as well, but as we read his thoughts become lighter and his obsessions less aggressive.

I went into the kitchen. These two drive me crazy. Here is the woman that Camden says he loves beyond all normal reasoning. Why doesn’t he grab her and go to it? And Ellin supposedly cares for him—after all, she left her conference, a huge sacrifice, knowing how much her career means to her. They should be terminally lip-locked, and here they sit like it’s teatime at the Plaza and they have a burning desire to discuss the stock market.

Who said crime fiction can’t be funny? Jane Tesh proves that it can be in a light-handed and beautiful way. Her characters may carry a lot of weight on their shoulders, but they do know how to crack a smile or laugh. And, despite all the pain they have to put up with, and the crime that’s on the rise, they still manage to see, or even create the light that will eventually overcome the darkness and make them feel more happy to be alive than they’ve been in a long, long time.
 

See more coverage of new releases in our Fresh Meat series.


Lakis Fourouklas has published four novels and three short-story collections in Greek. He’s currently translating his work into English and blogs at Fiction & More. He also keeps a few blogs in Greek regarding general fiction, Japanese literature, and crime fiction. Follow him on Twitter: @lakisf.  He lives in the wilderness of Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Read all posts by Lakis Fourouklas for Criminal Element.

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