Lowcountry Bombshell by Susan M. Boyer is the second cozy mystery about private investigator Liz Talbot set on a small-town island in South Carolina (available September 3, 2013).
Susan M. Boyer gets it.
And by “it,” I mean “the southern voice.”
And by that I do not mean she throws “Y’all” into every other line of her dialogue. I mean she understands deep down how Southern people talk and can replicate the cadence and music of that speech on the page as delicately as a master chef adding a last pinch of sea salt to a batch of Hollandaise sauce.
Too many writers attempting regional flavor in their fiction lay it on as thick as a Cajun cook seasoning a pot of jambalaya. The result can be as grating to the reader as listening to an actor using a generic “southern accent” composed of equal parts Dukes of Hazzard and Jimmy Carter.
(Seriously, I can’t be the only person who cringes every time I hear what’s supposed to be a “southern” accent on a show like True Blood or The Closer.)
But Susan M. Boyer gets it.
In Lowcountry Bombshell, private investigator Liz Talbot has moved back to Stella Maris, South Carolina (the “lowcountry” island of the title), where she lives in her Gram’s house with her dog Rhett, who is prone to “barking his fool head off” and the occasional company of her best friend Colleen, who doesn’t look a day over seventeen, because that’s how old she was when she died.
Colleen doesn’t really like being called a ghost and has told Liz she’s a “guardian spirit” in charge of the whole community, but from Liz’s point of view, she seems to get awfully involved in Liz’s business.
Liz’s business is running a private investigation service, and her most recent client, Calista McQueen, is a dead ringer for Marilyn Monroe. Calista's life also runs on a parallel track to the famous Hollywood bombshell's, having been born on the same day, fifty years later, and even to having a husband named Joe who was a ballplayer (for the Class A Charleston Riverdogs, a real farm team for the Yankees).
Joe was killed in a carjacking the day after he won the biggest single-winner Powerball payout in history—$700 million—but no one knew that until after he died, and Calista has paid a number of attorneys a good chunk of that money to keep her inheritance a secret.
Now, though, Calista thinks she’s marked for death and wants Liz to keep her alive past the August 4th anniversary of Marilyn Monroe’s death. Liz is almost sure that Calista is playing an elaborate practical joke on her, but Colleen convinces her to take the case no matter how convoluted and complicated it sounds.
Not that Liz doesn’t have her own complicated life. There’s her business partner, former brother-in-law, and best living friend Nate Andrews, who lives in Greenville and believes she has unresolved “issues” with her ex, Michael. Colleen thinks the same thing, despite Liz’s vehement protests to the contrary.
Michael and I dated in college, and would no doubt have married years ago, except for the intervention of my scheming cousin, Marci. She’d lied and seduced her way into a marriage with Michael that had recently ended. As Mamma would have put it, Marci had been called elsewhere.
To get a read on Calista, Liz heads for The Cracked Pot, a local diner run by Moon Unit Glendawn, who went to high school with Liz and Colleen. Liz knows that Moon is a clearinghouse for local gossip, and when she finds out that Calista eats at the diner, Liz asks Moon if she always comes in alone.
“Always. Bless her heart, I don’t think I’ve ever seen the poor little thing with anybody else. We need to introduce her around. I don’t think she knows a soul except me, Michael, Mamma and Daddy, and Robert Pearson.”
Robert Pearson is the attorney who handled the sale of Moon’s parents’ land to Calista, the land that Liz’s friend Michael constructed her house on. Everyone has paid close attention to the building of Calista’s house, because no one wants the island to end up a tourist trap.
And no one wants to be the person who sold the land to developers who are going to despoil it.
Stella Maris is that kind of place—everyone is related to everyone else either by blood or business and everybody knows what everybody’s business is.
Susan M. Boyer gets her small town ambience right, too. She knows how to create a cozy atmosphere without going overboard on the quirks.
And considering that one of the book’s major characters is a ghost, that’s saying something.
As the case heats up, so does the temperature—“Eh law. That sun’s like to cook us all,” says a waiter at the Pirate’s Den—and he doesn’t even know half of what’s going on, either with the case or with Liz’s love life. The August anniversary of Marilyn’s death is fast approaching, and everybody in town has an opinion about the pretty widow in the big house who drives around town in her late husband’s big ol’ red Cadillac car. And for a long time, all Liz has to go on is her own instincts and a sense that something just is not quite right.
This guy was giving me the willies. Even I knew he was overly solicitous to the point of pathology. Or perhaps criminal intent.
But sometimes, that’s all you need, along with a little help from a guardian spirit who used to be your best friend and is still all-up-in-your-business the way people are in small towns, alive or dead.
Lowcountry Bombshell is a sequel to Boyer’s Award-inning debut novel Lowcountry Boil. The next book in the series, Lowcountry Boneyard, will be published in May, 2014.
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Katherine Tomlinson lives in Los Angeles in an apartment where her TBR pile has its own bookcase. She writes dark fiction but has a soft spot for cozy mysteries, heroic fantasy, and horror novels where only bad people get killed. She is the author of the upcoming novel Misbegotten.