"When I was eight years old, my mama, Ruby Ann Templeton, had abandoned me at the Bonaventure Dairy Queen. She told me to run inside and buy two cones. When I came out, her car was gone, I never saw her again."
Despite this poignant beginning, Teeny Templeton has come to terms with her childhood, thanks to her mom's sister, Bluette, who took on the task of raising her. More importantly, Teeny knew that Aunt Bluette loved her and instilled in her values that helped get her through many messy life situations --- situations that, admittedly, Teeny often brought upon herself.
"If you are one of the unfortunates who missed West’s first mystery, GONE WITH A HANDSOMER MAN, don’t worry. You can read this one first and enjoy both just as much."
For example, this teeny bit of trouble began when Teeny's boyfriend, Coop O'Malley, got a knock on his door and opened it to a 10-year-old little girl who claimed that he was her daddy. In order to try to verify this claim, Teeny took it upon herself to pay a visit to little Emerson's mother and confront her about the allegation. But while Teeny was peeking around the beach house, she saw a tall skinny guy in a Bill Clinton mask arguing with Barb. Then she watched as he choked her to death.
When she finally got someone to believe her and investigate, there was no one in the beach house and no evidence of a struggle. One thing leads to another, as is often the case in these situations, and Teeny finds herself in the middle of trouble for which she never bargained. Day after day she proves the adage that bad things happen to good people. But Teeny never gives in. She reaches for her inhaler; talks to herself, Aunt Bluette and Jesus; and keeps herself on track. This is not easy with all that is happening.
In addition to the mysterious disappearance of Emerson's mother, the child is not only motherless but also unsure of who her father is. Teeny begins to suspect that there is something suspicious going on between Barb's husband, Lester Philpot, and the lovely young thing who works in his pharmacy. When Barb's corpse does turn up, it becomes the first of many mysterious mortalities in the small town of Bonaventure, Georgia. Teeny is determined to get to the bottom of things, mainly for the sake of the child, whom she has come to love despite her nasty wall of defense: "Huh, I'm not little. I've got a big brain. I know everything." Between Emerson, her mother and her grandmother, I haven't read so much mean-spirited dialogue since my last Patricia Cornwell novel.
To all of this, author Michael Lee West adds an ex-boyfriend who is determined to win Teeny back, a hint of illegal trafficking in body parts, and a number of unforgettable characters --- some kooky and fun, others not so much. West has a gift for combining an exciting mystery with a tender love story and huge measure of humor (in fact, you will laugh out loud). Here are all of the ingredients needed to create a satisfying portion of entertainment.
If you are one of the unfortunates who missed West’s first mystery, GONE WITH A HANDSOMER MAN, don’t worry. You can read this one first and enjoy both just as much. Warning: Don't start reading the last 60 or so pages unless you are prepared to finish the book. It's that unputdownable.
Reviewed by Maggie Harding on April 13, 2012