"Lucky Stuff" by Sharon Fiffer
Reviewed by David Marshall James
Too late-- she's stolen another Jane Wheel mystery right out from under her daughter, who after all has an inordinate amount of stuff on her plate in this eighth novel by Illinois author Sharon Fiffer.
Jane's life has been a-changin' since she left her big-league job with a Chicago ad firm.
She's become spouse-less and house-less, and her only son, Nick, is boarding at a science-and-math-centered school.
The marital dissolution is amicable, and Jane is headed home to Kankakee, Illinois, to assist old chum Tim Lowry with their Trash 'N' Treasures business. Meanwhile, she remains in touch with Bruce Oh, her mentor in the the PI trade.
Nellie and husband Don also expect Jane to pull drafts at the family biz, the EZ Way Inn. As Nellie notes-- and she would note-- Jane has left a high-level position for three part-time jobs.
Bump that up to four, as this story finds her working as a personal assistant for onetime Kankakeean and longtime comic Lucky Miller, back in town to produce a TV special featuring a celebrity roast.
Truth is, Lucky's more a celebrity in his own mind, which is remarkably scattered. The real reason he's encamped in Kankakee concerns the mysterious disappearance of one of his childhood friends, back in the day.
The townfolk could scarcely care about Lucky's hidden agenda, even if they were enlightened, as he's throwing money around like Warren Buffett on a bailout bonanza. Long-neglected storefronts are spiffed up, and the restaurants are rocking.
Fiffer's new novel is jammed and jazzed with lots of good stuff, with multiple subplots involving Jane's mid-life metamorphosis. No ho-hum's here, not with Mother Nellie slinging her bar towels and dishrags and pronouncements.
Whereas Jane collects, Nellie not only clears out, she also cleans and rearranges. She's a natural, no-nonsense, call-it-as-it-is character, the kind of tavern keeper you may still glimpse in some locales-- if you're lucky-- perpetually sipping coffee at the end of the bar, alternating bites of pie with puffs of unfiltered cigarettes.
This refreshingly nonformulaic mystery finds its protagonist putting a spit-shine on her new life, shedding some of the old to make way for the new. Nellie would be pleased-- but she would never admit it.
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