Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Find Fool on the Hill Fast

Those who know me know that I am both stuck in a mystery reading streak that has gone unchecked since 1991 and that I have so depleted the stacks of golden and silver age mysteries I adore, replete with Daimlers, badinage and clues you don’t need a forensic science degree to understand, that I am forced to consider modern mysteries to sate my literary appetite. One can only read The Body in the Library so many times, before hungering for something new.

Fortunately, new fodder arrived on the shelves this April in the form of Fool on the Hill, the second Tess Camillo mystery by Ashland author Morgan Hunt, and I swallowed it whole, along with its predecessor, Sticky Fingers, released last year, in a mystery reading wallow that found me lounging on the window seat when I should have been making noodles for my five year-old, and sneaking in sentences when screen time distracted my spouse. I haven’t read one book, much less two, in that short a span in years.

What kept me glued to the page were three things: 1) the colorful descriptions (“the same puckish deity who designed scrotums graced me with fulsome curves”), 2) the complicated character of incurably curious Tess Camillo, San Diego lesbian computer-jockey/math lover/cancer survivor/lusty lady on the verge of menopause who loves both eighties disco and the Eagles, and 3) the tone, a teetering balance of situation comedy and classic who-dunnit combining clever quips, pop culture references, and earnest questions on the nature of love, evil, cancer and casual sex.

Okay, there is a fourth thing: the words. When, in Sticky Fingers, Morgan Hunt describes a building as “Randian”, dropped “tumescence” on me, and then “cumulonimbus” in Fool on the Hill, I was hooked. And there are the murders themselves; not satisfied with stabbing her victim, or shooting him, or even a blow to the head with a blunt instrument, Hunt’s victims are killed by snakebite in one book and crucified in the next. Literally. A breath of fresh air for this mystery reader, gun shy after too many shots in the dark.

I can’t wait for the release of Morgan Hunt’s next book: the lyric-related title, the unusual method of murder, the mystifying word I’ll need to look up in my trusty desktop dictionary, and the continuing capers of Tess Camillo, looking for love, lust, justice and Italian food in Southern California with her roommate Lana and a cast of secondary characters that weave a world I want to visit again, even without Daimler’s, little old ladies in lacy fichus and butlers who find the body.

Fool on the Hill, by Morgan Hunt, published by Alyson Books, April 2008, paperback, 190 pages, ISBN 978-1-59350-027-6, $14.95.

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