If you’re looking for a book to make you run the gamut of emotions, Hunting Sweetie Rose by Jack Fredrickson is it. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll want to write bad checks. OK, maybe I exaggerated on the last one, but I promise you’ll experience everything else. It’s an interesting and entertaining read.
This is the third is the mystery PI series that features Dek Elstrom, the disgraced investigator who ended up losing almost all he had—including his wealthy wife and his credibility—and it measures up to the first two with ease.
It starts with a clown dancing on the roof of a building and his rather ungraceful fall from grace to the ground. Dek’s services are engaged to determine if the clown’s sudden stop on the asphalt was an accident (as the police ruled) or murder. Dek doesn’t know who his employer is, but he’s pleased to have work and, of course, like all of us, loves a good puzzle. He gets a big one when he meets up with Sweetie Fairbairn and discovers the wealthy benefactor to many charities is the biggest mystery of all.
I love Jack’s writing because I identify so easily with his characters. I want to live in a turret. Unfortunately Dek doesn’t, so he spends most of his time wondering how he can afford to get the turret fixed up for sale and convince the town council to rezone it residential instead of municipal. I think I’d probably be a little like Dek if I lived alone, too: subsisting on microwave dinners and Ho-Hos. Sounds like the diet of champions to me. Of course, in my case the frozen dinners would be Weight Watchers or Lean Cuisine.
I also enjoyed getting to know Leo Brumsky, Dek’s best friend for lots of years who has a penchant for wearing loud clothes, living well below his means, helping his mother and her friends—with Dek’s help of course—and being available for the random adventure.
I touched the toe of my shoe to one of the pipes we’d just set on the floor. “So these are . . . ?”
He pointed up to the ceiling. He’d chalked eight circles on the wood joists. One for each of the pipes he’d gotten at the Home Depot.
“For stretching, kicking,” he said.
I looked down, then back up. An outrageous image had blown hot into my head.
“No,” I managed, but it was tentative.
Leo’s lips widened into a sly smile. “Brilliant, huh? Low-impact workouts, easily done, standing up.”
“Not pipes.” I pointed to the hardware on the floor. “Poles.”
His smile broadened until his head was half teeth. “Ma’s lady friend Mrs. Roshiska has a nephew, Bernard. He’s an accountant. He told me it’s all the rage. Excellent exercise, particularly for older ladies.”
“Septuagenarians?” I started laughing. No, not laughing; shrieking. The picture forming in my head, of Ma Brumsky and her lady friends, struggling to work poles like the torsos who pranced in the joints along Thompson Avenue, was going to blind me.
“Just muscle toning, you letch,” Leo sputtered, trying not to lose control himself. “Bernard—”
“I know.” My eyes had filled with tears. “Bernard, the nephew accountant, says it’s all the rage.”
Add to that humor the hint of reconciliation with his ex-wife Amanda or a possible romance with ace TV reporter Jennifer Gale, and it’s a story that kept me turning pages to the end.
What Jack has done with this great big onion of a story is unwrap it slowly, layer by layer, piece by piece. I was making all kinds of guesses while reading and was sure I had figured out the story behind the current events in Sweetie’s life several times, but wasn’t even close to what Dek actually discovered. I love it when a writer surprises me in the end. Trust me, it doesn’t happen often.
What Dek does while working through this maze of questions with no answers kept me reading until the wee hours. It all happens with delightful wit and sharp dialogue, like this scene:
I started up the stairs to bed. Then someone began pounding on my door. It happens in the late evening, occasionally. Fun lovers, boozed and woozed along Thompson Avenue, sometimes lose sight of their neon guideposts and stagger across the spit of land to the turret, thinking it might be a place for more amusement, or at least a secluded spot to urinate.
This time, though, it was no drunk. It was Jennifer Gale, dressed in a tight- enough pink sweater and considerably well-tailored blue jeans. She carried a laptop computer.
“This is a sort of ambush journalism,” she said. “I have what you want, and I have questions. I am hoping I caught you late enough that you are not at your sharpest.”
“I don’t sleep well,” I said, holding the door open for her to come in. “I am never at my sharpest.”
She paused as soon as she got inside. First-time visitors do that. The turret’s curved, rough limestone walls cast dramatic shadows, no matter what the time of day or type of light. Respecting that, I’d furnished the first floor simply, so as not to detract from the architecture, with two white plastic lawn chairs and a table saw.
“Neat,” she said, staring up at the dark beamed ceiling.
“The chairs I found in an alley,” I said, drawing her attention to my own contributions. “The table saw came from Sears, originally. I bought it used.”
She walked over to the enormous stone fireplace. There is one on each of the five floors.
“This has never had a fire,” she said. She leaned in to look up at the flue.
I looked away, so as to not stare at her leaning in, in those considerably well-tailored blue jeans.
“Until me, this place never had a human occupant,” I said, my thoughts almost under control.
She pulled a small digital recorder out of her pocket. “For notes, not for broadcast?”
“You’ve brought me pictures?”
“As you requested.”
She set her laptop on my table saw, and we sat on the plastic chairs.
It seems every time Dek closes a door on a part of his investigation, a window opens and someone comes through looking to give him trouble. Not only is someone going after his client, they’re most likely planning to off good old Dek too!
I guarantee if you follow Dek on this adventure, you’ll do a lot of traveling, dodge some bullets, and worry about what keeps going bump in the night.
But you’ll love every minute of it.
Leigh Neely is a former newspaper and magazine editor. She currently does freelance work, blogs at womenofmystery.net, and recently wrote the short story, “A Vampire in Brooklyn,” which is in the anthology, Murder New York Style: Fresh Slices.