A home-schooled clown turned undercover cop? In the hands of one of Christian fiction's most talented and funny writers, Rene Gutteridge, this character seems not only probable, but engaging and loveable. SNITCH, the second book in her Occupational Hazards series, shows why she has earned such a loyal following.
Like its predecessor, SCOOP, SNITCH opens with the obituaries of mom and pop Hazard, who have just died in a freak hot tub accident in Las Vegas. The seven Hazard children (ranging in age from 16 to 26) --- all homeschooled --- have spent their years with their mother and father touring as The Hazard Clowns. With their parents' lives abruptly ended ("It all boils down to an overly ambitious serenading guitar player, a hundred-foot extension cord, and a rack of mood lighting"), the Hazard children begin to explore new job possibilities. In the hilarious first installment, SCOOP, 20-year-old Hayden became a television news personality. In book two, we find 22-year-old Mackenzie "Mac" Hazard five years later, with a career in law enforcement.
One of the pleasures of reading Gutteridge's books is her cast of zany but somehow believable characters, and this novel is no exception. Mac is invited to join "Task Force Viper" as an undercover cop, working to discover who is behind a rash of recent auto thefts. On the task force is Ron Yeager, two years from retirement and battling a shattered leg, high blood pressure, a heart condition and a "later-life" crisis. He's bored out of his mind and looking for some excitement, but his wife Nan is wanting him to mark time until he can safely leave the force. "Nobody who has to take eight Aleve in a day should be back on the streets," she scolds.
Joining Mac and Ron are Elliot "Dozer" Stillman, who falls asleep at unpredictably odd moments, and his partner, Jesse Lunden, a pierced and tattooed hotshot cop who isn't religious but is superstitious. His superstitions involve a picture of Elvis, a lucky bullet, wearing new socks and seeing a chaplain. "You're not my priest," he tells the police chaplain, who he sees regularly. "You're my good luck charm." An old prom date comes back to haunt Jesse when he gets involved in a drug bust, and that's just for starters. When Ron ropes in his own pastor who is on sabbatical to work undercover, the story really begins to cook. Throw in a little old lady named Ruth Butler who is her own one-woman neighborhood watch group, and the fun percolates even more.
One of the particular joys of this series is how the Hazards are unashamed of their faith, yet never come across as preachy or super-religious. Rather, their Christianity is just a part of who they are --- just like having blue eyes or brown hair. These aren't cookie-cutter Christians either. Rather, the Hazards are unique and terrifically engaging characters.
For those wondering where to begin in the series, both SCOOP and SNITCH read fine as stand-alone novels. Gutteridge begins both stories at the same point in time, and gives just enough background to keep the reader clued in. The third installment will feature another sibling, and I have my money on Hank, Mac's strong, silent 23-year-old brother who is a whiz at mechanics. No matter which sibling Gutteridge decides to focus on, it's a sure bet that it will be worth your time to read.
Reviewed by Cindy Crosby on May 15, 2007