Book Review: A Bad Day for Sunshine by Darynda Jones
By Janet WebbApril 20, 2020
A Bad Day for Sunshine by Darynda Jones is the first novel in the new snarky, sassy, wickedly fun Sunshine Vicram series, where Sheriff Sunshine Vicram finds her cup o’ joe more than half full when the small village of Del Sol, New Mexico, becomes the center of national attention for a kidnapper on the loose.
Butterflies in your stomach the day you start a new job is par for the course, even if you’re the newly returned, hometown girl who made good. Sheriff Sunshine “Sunny” Vicram left Del Sol, New Mexico, when she was a teenager. In the intervening years, she honed her craft and burnished her reputation, making her a worthy candidate for sheriff. Even so, her first day on the job is a challenge when a kidnapper brings unwanted attention to the small town.
The kidnapper’s purported victim is Sybil St. Aubin, a teenager whose parents are new to Del Sol. It’s everyone’s worst nightmare. Is this really the opportunity Sunny wanted?
Let’s back up. A Bad Day for Sunshine is the first in a new series, blessed with a magnificent location. Del Sol is not to be found on Google maps, but New Mexican towns just like it exist. Darynda Jones has a gift for magical descriptions like the brilliant sight that greeted Sunny before her first day of work.
Thick clouds soaked up the vibrant colors of daybreak and splashed them across the heavens like a manic artist who’d scored a new bottle of Adderall. Orange Crush and cotton candy collided and dovetailed, making the sky look like a watercolor that had been left out in the rain. The vibrant hues reflected off the fat flakes drifting down and powdering the landscape.
A complicated backstory that informs the present day is another hallmark of a sticky series hook. Readers learn that when Sheriff Sunny was a teenager, she was the victim of a trauma that she is still reluctant to revisit. She’s a widow and single mother. Del Sol is packed with her family and friends; there’s even an old flame with some smoldering embers: Levi Ravinder. He’s a tall, cool drink of water, and Sunny has his every feature memorized.
And though she couldn’t see his eyes, she’d dreamed about them almost daily. The rich, tawny color like whiskey in the sun. The long, dark lashes she would have given her left kidney for.
Whoa, it’s feeling hot in Del Sol. Adding to Levi’s appeal, in her absence, he went from bad boy to entrepreneur in one generation. Not bad. Sunny fixates on his truck.
It had a custom wrap with his company’s logo on it, Dark River Shine, and pride swelled inside her.
He’d actually managed to take his family’s illegal business—and recipe—and turn it into an insanely successful career as a distiller.
According to the mayor, Sunny’s conniving (over-exuberant?) parents fixed the outcome of her election for sheriff. Every series needs a villain—not necessarily someone who should be behind bars but a constant thorn in the side of our hero. Mayor Donna Lomas “was that girl in town all the other girls wanted to be when they grew up. Pretty. Perky. Popular.” On Sunny’s first day on the job, Donna is waiting in her office, ready to make a deal.
“You get me the names of the Dangerous Daughters, and I’ll let the whole thing slide.”
That time, Sun didn’t even try to suppress her snort. She let it rip and then gaped at the woman in front of her. “The Dangerous Daughters? Would you like Santa’s address while I’m at it?”
Donna stood unfazed. Her temerity was sobering.
“You can’t honestly believe they exist.”
“I do,” she said. “How else do you explain your win?”
Sunny’s daughter, Aurora Dawn Vicram, aka Auri, is a chip off the old block. She’s preternaturally smart and sensitive with secrets of her own, just like mom. Auri is more than an amateur sleuth; she’s a high school student who can break into computer programs with one hand tied behind the keyboard. She’s so in sync with her mother it’s scary.
“Aurora Dawn Vicram. You broke the law. And you had plans to break it even more. Since when do you hack into someone’s computers?
The sting in the backs of Auri’s eyes caused her frustration to spike even further. “I can help, Mom. I’m very good at getting information when I need to, and Sybil is missing. Isn’t that all that matters?”
Auri’s parentage is another mystery to be solved. The Sunshine Vicram series has rich/poor, indigenous/newcomer dynamics that complicate crime-solving. Sunny seems like a good leader, but it’s intriguing to meet the folks who are always in her corner. There’s comic relief in the person of fabled rooster Puff Daddy and fabulous sustenance like the food at the Shed, “an amazing breakfast-and-lunch place that served the best breakfast burritos this side of the Pecos.” Del Sol is a town that has it all. Its multi-generational stories and threads will keep readers glued to Sheriff Sunny Vicram’s playbook.