For the full list of reading suggestions today, make sure you head over to Patti’s blog.
MISCHIEF IN MAGGODY (1988) by Joan Hess
Reviewed by Barry Ergang
The second novel in Joan Hess’s comical mystery series, Mischief in Maggody is primarily but not exclusively concerned with the disappearance and eventual murder of Robin Buchanon, one of many of the Buchanon clan inhabitants of Maggody, Arkansas, population 755: “There are hundreds of them sprinkled across Stump County, worse than hogweed. Incest and inbreeding are their favorite hobbies…They aren’t strong on intelligence; the most they can aspire to is animal cunning. An anthropologist from Farber College once tried to sort out the genealogy, although nobody ever figured out why anybody’d want to do that. Rumor has it she tried to kill herself at the county line, and ranted in the ambulance about third cousins twice removed and fathers who were also uncles and half-brothers. Her family hushed it up with some story about a diesel truck, but everybody in Maggody knew better.”
Ariel “Arly” Hanks, who was raised here but eventually married, moved to Manhattan, ultimately divorced, and moved back to Maggody where she has become Chief of Police, has quite a number of problems to contend with, not the least of which in her current case, is the well-being of loose-morals moonshiner Robin Buchanon’s five children, one of whom is an infant.
Arly and/or the reader will also encounter—via first- and third-person viewpoints—in no particular order—Madame Celeste, a psychic who may or may not be phony; Celeste’s brother, obliging Mason Dickerson; Brother Verber, preacher at the Voice of the Almighty Lord Assembly Hall; school counselor David Allen Wainwright; Arly’s mother Ruby Bee and Ruby’s friend Estelle Oppers; the consummately inept Kevin Buchanon and his lady love, Dahlia O’Neill; student Carol Alice Plummer and her “best friend in the whole world,” Heather Riley; and the new hippie owners of the Emporium: Nate, Rainbow, Zachery and Poppy, the latter being very pregnant. Extremely memorable is Maggody’s mayoral wife and devout Christian known throughout as “Mrs. Jim Bob,” and occasionally as Mizzoner,her husband Mayor Jim Bob being off in a conference in Hot Springs.
A modern take on the screwball comedy mystery that Craig Rice might have loved—albeit with some implied sexuality and blatant raw street language—the novel is one I can recommend to non-squeamish readers of entertaining whodunits.
© 2019 Barry Ergang
As regular readers of this blog know, some of Derringer-winner Barry Ergang’s work is available at Amazon and Smashwords. His free e-book Criminalities includes the essay “Impossible Pleasures,” about impossible crime fiction.
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