Friday, July 04, 2008

book review: Murder, Mayhem and a Fine Man by Claudia Mair Burney


Title: Murder, Mayhem and a Fine Man
Author:
Claudia Mair Burney
Publisher: Howard Books, January 2008
ISBN-10:
1416551948
ISBN-13:
978-1416551942

He possessed the kind of exotic good looks that appeared to be an ambiguous blend of races - at least black, white, and Latino. He must have pulled all the fine out of that multicultural gene pool. Mr. United Nations had on a gray lightweight wool suit, tailored to perfection. His white button-down shirt had been starched to military attention. His artsy tie, knotted charmingly askew at his neck, looked like an expressionist painting. I sensed a little wildness there and it looked good and natural on him — like wildness looks good on mountains and waterfalls.

That's Jazz you've just met. If he, main character Amanda Bell Brown's number one man in Murder, Mayhem and a Fine Man doesn't grab you, surely Claudia Mair Burney's tight writing will. This debut novel (and the first of the Amanda Bell Brown mystery series) showcases Burney's talents not only in the characterization and writing departments, but also proves she can craft a sweet love story-cum-mystery and do a little psychological delving in the process.

Dr. Brown, intelligent, savvy female psychologist has all but put men behind her until Jazz (also Brown) shows up at the crime scene the night of Amanda's 35th birthday celebration, when Amanda's medical examiner sister, Carly, must attend. What a birthday present - especially since the crime cult-house is not unfamiliar to Amanda. Her experience in working with cult survivors makes her a natural assistant to the handsome investigator. Needless to say, sparks soon fly, though the obviously enamored Jazz keeps insisting he's unavailable.

I found the plot a little heavy on the romance shenanigans early in the book, but as Burney slowly lets us in on Amanda's suppressed past, my interest revived until, in the thick of the action, I almost forgot to breathe.

Amanda is definitely the belle of this ball, telling the story in first person. The dangerously handsome Jazz is almost too good to be true, although the mixed messages he gives off through much of the book (unavailable, right - so why does he keep hanging around?) made me want to shake him. Bit players, like Susan Hinds and Michael Wright, are intriguing for their complexity, evil, and unpredictability.

Burney's writing voice coming through Amanda is Detroit-'hood hip with lots of wittiness, humorous put-downs, and double entendres. Even so, she manages to slip in a fair amount about faith - of the ecumenical variety with Amanda referring often to her Pentecostal grandmother, her emergent pastor, and church, and Jazz giving Bell his prayer beads (Catholic), bemoaning his encounter with Benny Hinn, but welcoming her prayers of any variety.

For the quick, mostly light read this is, Burney tackles some weighty matters. Relationship (toxic versus wholesome) is a theme that pervades the book. Relationships are explored in areas of faith (the misuse of leader-power in cults versus the benign leadership of pastor Rocky), romantic love, and the love of God for us all. The book is also about forgiving - especially oneself.

If you enjoy a romantic cat-and-mouse mystery rich in psychological overtones and clever repartee, you'll want Murder, Mayhem and a Fine Man (and probably its sequel Death, Deceit and Some Smooth Jazz) in your beach bag this summer.

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