Skating on the Edge by Joelle Charbonneau is the third humorous Rebecca Robbins roller rink mystery (available October 2, 2012).
When Rebecca Robbins inherited the Toe Stop roller rink from her mother, she had no intention of keeping the place; she hoped to sell the business as quickly as possible so she could leave town and return to the life she’d built in Chicago. Things didn’t go according to plan, though, and since buyers haven’t exactly been falling over themselves to make an offer on the rink, Rebecca’s resigned to spending the foreseeable future in her old hometown of Indian Falls.
The latest of Joelle Charbonneau’s Rebecca Robbins Mysteries, Skating on the Edge, finds the residents of Indian Falls smack in the middle of their annual Native American Summer Days celebration. Rebecca’s been duped into taking a turn in the Senior Center’s dunk tank, but just as she’s about to climb in, she gets called away to assist her grandfather. A member of the local roller derby team—a skater nicknamed Sherlene-n-Mean—volunteers to take Rebecca’s place, but little does she know, the tank’s been rigged, and the poor woman is electrocuted upon hitting the water. Was Sherlene-n-Mean the intended target, or is somebody gunning for Rebecca? It’s in Rebecca’s best interest to help the police catch the killer before he or she can strike again, or her long-awaited exit from Indian Falls could be in a body bag.
There is one thing of which you can be certain when you pick up a Rebecca Robbins Mystery: it’ll make you laugh. From libidinous senior citizens with a fondness for spandex to Stetson-sporting camels, there’s absolutely no denying Joelle Charbonneau knows how to bring the funny. The great thing about her writing, though—and the thing that helps set her apart from others doing the comedic-mystery thing—is that she knows precisely how best to deploy her wicked sense of humor in any given situation.
Sometimes, Charbonneau uses humor to prevent a scene from getting too serious:
The sensations Lionel was currently causing with just the tip of his tongue and his hands told me that sex with Lionel Franklin wouldn’t be merely pleasant. It was going to have a serious impact on me and tip the delicate balance of our relationship.
I pulled Lionel closer and pushed all relationship dos and don’ts to the side. Lionel made me feel cared for and alive. Two things I desperately needed after today. I wanted him. I’d just have to deal with the fallout later.
My fingers fiddled with the buttons on his shirt and slid inside to touch his warm chest. His hands pressed against my back and slid under the waistband of my shorts. I sucked in air as his mouth slid against my neck and traveled lower. My knees trembled.
“Do you think we should interrupt them?”
“Maybe we should go outside and knock.”
“I say we watch. I bet Rebecca has popcorn in the kitchen.”
It took a second before I realized the voices I heard weren’t coming from out on the street. They were inside my apartment.
And sometimes, she uses humor to add color to what in most hands would be a completely boring and unremarkable transition scene:
I rang the bell and induced bedlam.
“Get the door, Rick!”
“I’m doing my homework! Maggie can get the door!”
“Why do I have to do it? This is my TV time!”
Meanwhile, dogs barked, a baby cried, and several other kids screamed. Finally, the door swung open. Rick’s five-year-old brother stood in the doorway with a sucker jammed in his mouth.
“Hello.” I smiled and hoped the kid wouldn’t notice I’d forgotten his name. Rick had six brothers and sisters. On occasion, even Rick’s parents forgot their names.
The kid gave me a purple-toothed smile. “Hi. Do you want to come in?”
Of course I wanted to come in, only the responsible adult side of me couldn’t do it. The kid shouldn’t be answering doors and inviting strangers into his house. I could have an ax behind my back. I didn’t, but that was beside the point. Clearly, “stranger danger” wasn’t enforced in this household.
I squatted to look the kid in the eye. “I’d love to, but you really shouldn’t invite a stranger into the house without your mother’s permission. Is she at home?”
“Mom’s not wearing a bra.” The kid licked his lollipop. “She won’t come to the door. She says it’s not polite.”
She was right. Annie Shepard had breasts the size of watermelons. Unrestrained, they could do serious psychological damage.
But Charbonneau’s also wise enough to know that in a book that’s a comedy to its very core, the absence of humor in a scene can speak volumes. That sometimes, it’s better to press pause on the laugh track and let a character bare his or her soul:
My father flinched. “I have no reason to lie.”
“You do.” My heart thudded. My gut heaved, and I said, “Someone put electrical wires in the dunk tank right around the time you were spotted near that area.”
Stan laughed. “You think I killed that woman? Why would I try to kill her? I didn’t even know her.”
“I don’t think you wanted to kill her.” I tried to ignore the blood pounding my head and the tilting of my stomach. “I think you were trying to kill me.”
That got a reaction. Dad’s neck muscles bulged, his eyes bugged out, and his face turned several shades of white. For a moment he looked like he was having a heart attack. Finally, he yelled, “You what? Why would I kill my own daughter? I came back to town for you.”
He came back to town to outrun an angry mariachi mob. I hadn’t forgotten that I was a side note in the drama. Neither had Pop.
“That’s a pile of horse crap.” My grandfather poked a gnarled finger at my father. “You wouldn’t have come back if you weren’t in trouble, and you’re only here now because you owe me money. You’re going to owe me a whole lot more if you’re trying to hurt my granddaughter.”
My father looked from me to Pop and back at me. Taking a deep breath, he said, “I know I hurt you years ago, but I’m doing my best to make that up to you. I’m not a killer, and I didn’t do anything to the dunk tank.”
My father’s eyes begged me to believe him. His shoulders slumped as though I had hurt him. I felt myself caving. Before I lost my nerve, I asked, “Then what were you doing in the park?”
He looked into my eyes for what felt like forever, searching for something. Finally, he straightened his shoulders and said, “I now realize how badly I must have hurt you all those years ago. I hope it helps to know you’ve done the same to me.”
In the right author’s hands, humor can be a very powerful and versatile tool. It may be early in her career, but Joelle Charbonneau has proven she has mastery over that tool. She knows when the situation calls for her to wield the funny like a blunt instrument, but more importantly, she also knows when it’s better to let it cut like a knife.
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Katrina Niidas Holm loves mysteries. She lives in Maine with her husband, fabulously talented pulp writer Chris F. Holm, and a noisy, noisy cat. She writes reviews for The Season E-Zine and The Maine Suspect, and you can find her on Twitter.