Murder in the Forecast
Valerie Wolzien is the author of several "domestic mysteries," a term that is used with respect in some circles, derision in others. A domestic mystery usually involves a female lead character as the protagonist, somewhat independent but not too much so, in an established, if not civilly formalized, relationship with a gently dominant male. The lady of the book usually has her own business in a small, sometimes isolated community and somehow stumbles into situations involving a murder or two, with the mayhem taking place blessedly off the page and neatly out of sight. The local gendarme are haphazard at best and graduates of the Keystone Kop Academy at worst, and are not exactly overjoyed to have an amateur detective in their midst. The audiences for these books are, not surprisingly, women. Domestic mysteries aren't often given recognition amongst the literati of the mystery genre, which is unfortunate. There are a lot of people out there --- women and men --- who enjoy this genre on an occasional to frequent basis. I know a woman who has an entire walk-in closet full of these bad boys (or is that bad girls?) that she adds to on a frequent basis and trades with her friends. I am sure she is not unique.
Wolzien's ongoing character, Josie Pigeon, is back in MURDER IN THE FORECAST. Pigeon, an attractive, feminine woman who is the best carpenter on a Florida barrier island, has obtained a contract for her company, Island Contracting, to remodel the island's grandest home, The Point House, for its new owner, wealthy New Yorker Cornell Hudson. Why Hudson, who ostensibly owns a contracting business, would hire Pigeon and her crew to do the remodeling work is a mystery, but Pigeon is more concerned with doing a good job and collecting a substantial fee than divining Hudson's motives. A hurricane arriving on the day that Pigeon and her company are to begin work ruins these plans --- as does the murder of Hudson, whose body Josie finds in the house, with one of her dropcloths wrapped around his neck. When the hurricane hits and washes Hudson House, and Hudson, away, Pigeon is left with no clues, but with no lack of suspects either --- including Hudson's three spoiled adult daughters who have descended upon the island like blond harpies. Pigeon's significant other, Sam Richardson, an attorney turned entrepreneur, is there for support, moral and otherwise, as well as for providing Pigeon with focus and perspective when she occasionally, if inevitably, wanders too far astray.
Wolzien's plots occasionally stretch the envelope of suspension of disbelief; there are elements to her storytelling, however, which make such lapses not only forgivable, but ultimately endearing. These are manifested in MURDER IN THE FORECAST by her description of Pigeon in the events leading up to the landing of the hurricane. Pigeon, against all logic, remains optimistic in the face of the hurricane forecast. The description of her attitude and actions (or lack thereof) is right on target. You know people like this; you may be one yourself. You will see them in the persona of Josie Pigeon in MURDER IN THE FORECAST. And it is here, perhaps, where the charm of these mysteries lies. If the plots are occasionally a bit out of believability, the characters, although broadly drawn, are not. If you can't identify with them, you know people just like them who would react in a similar manner as the characters in the book. And isn't that part of the lure of reading?
Wolzien leaves enough personal issues among the characters of MURDER IN THE FORECAST unresolved to make further books in the Josie Pigeon series inevitable and welcome. And they will, no doubt, continue to expand Wolzien's fan base for as long as she is inclined to write them. And that, in the final analysis, is a good thing.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on August 28, 2001