Mystery Offers Solid Story, Southern Smiles

"Iced Chiffon" by Duffy Brown
Reviewed by David Marshall James

Many mysteries that attempt to be both Southern and humorous merely belly-up by being silly, either over the top-- of the magnolia tree-- or dead on the vine-- tomato, kudzu, or morning glory, take your pick.

However Duffy Brown's got the double order down, with a mystery as well-plotted as any mansion garden on any square in Savannah, which happens to be the setting.

The author knows the city, which, as any Southerner can tell you, means she is familiar with the best places to eat and drink, from the holes-in-the-wall off the tourist GPS's to the more prominent bistros, grills, and cafes.

Brown has weighed all the conventions of the mystery genre and determined the keepers, while discarding the "old hat."

Speaking of old hats, the protagonist, divorcee Reagan Summerside, is building up a consignment shop in the front room of her SNOWY (Still Needs Oodles of Work, Y'all) Victorian.

However, that enterprise comes as happenstance. The dire-straited Reagan has already sold the furniture, and she's down to the clothes.

Her husband (everybody warned her about his playboyish ways, and not to sign the prenup) has traded up-- in his slackened mind, that is-- for a flashier model. He's going to wish he hadn't when his flashy fiancee is found literally whacked in the trunk of his Lexus, and he's carted off to jail.

So, Reagan should by all rights be jubilant.

Not so. Her ex is mortgaged up the wazoo, and he hasn't signed over Reagan's pride-and-joy fixer-upper, so she stands to lose it to lawyer bills, and she's been royally fleeced by her ex's attorney, Walker Boone, once.

Fool me once, and all that, so she's compelled to uncover who really murdered her ex's fiancee, because the police believe they have the perp, and Boone's bills will mount up if the case proceeds to trial.

The author creates a host of memorable characters, including the two spinster sisters who live on one side of Reagan, as well as her auntie and golf-obsessed uncle, on the other. As empty as Reagan's refrigerator may often be, she'll never starve, sandwiched as she is between three master bakers.

The sisters, who serve as professional funeral mourners, are plugged into the Savannah switchboard, as is her Aunt Kiki, who gives dancing lessons in her home.

None of those ladies is going to give Dr. Watson a run for his tuppence, but Reagan is like a daughter to them, very much in need. No car, no phone, no food.

Meanwhile, the author needn't worry about the future of her fledgling series, if it remains true to the form displayed here. A smiling Savannah salute, then, complete with frosty-cold martini and blue-cheese-stuffed olives.