“Wicked” Women Whodunit
by MaryJanice Davidson, Amy Garvey, Jennifer Apodaca & Nancy J. Cohen
(Brava, $14.00, NC-17) ISBN 0-7582-1026-4
****
Like many readers, I enjoy anthologies because it’s a great way to sample several authors without investing a ton of time and money. Like many readers, I also dislike anthologies because they can be wildly uneven. For every good story, there tends to be one or two duds in the batch. Not the case with Brava’s first foray into mystery fiction! Every story is a solid read featuring eccentric characters, amusing hijinks, murder and mayhem, with a little hot sex tossed in for good measure.

Hot author of the moment, MaryJanice Davidson gets things rolling with “Ten Little Idiots.” Nurse and aspiring writer, Caro Swenson, was supposed to be at the mansion on an island off the coast of Maine enjoying her vacation. Instead, another guest comes out of her room, brandishing a bloody candlestick, claiming she killed someone in the dining room. The question is, who’s dead? It’s up to Caro and the other guests to get to the bottom of things.

Davidson’s wacky and zany writing style can be a little hard to swallow in a full-length novel, but in a shorter format it makes for a fun and fast read. Caro is a likable heroine, and the characters around her, including the hunky handyman, make for several amusing exchanges. “Ten Little Idiots” is Agatha Christie on acid; talk about a good trip!

Newcomer Amy Garvey’s “Single White Dead Guy” is the sole reason this collection garnered an NC-17 sensuality reading. Not only is the story a lot of fun, it boasts some smoking hot sex scenes.

Lanie Burke is suffering from a case of bad karma; so she decides to borrow a friend’s cabin in upstate New York for the weekend and get away from it all. However, thanks to a blinding blizzard, she finds herself in a local bar asking directions. There she meets hunky construction contractor Will DeMaio. One thing leads to another, and soon these two are burning up the sheets. Too bad a dead body shows up the morning after and ruins the afterglow.

Garvey writes clean and crisp, and the plot blazes along at a fast pace. Lanie is a likable gal, and Will is suitably hunky. Garvey has a full-length mystery due out this Spring 2005, and I’m anxious to see if she can repeat the magic at a longer page count.

Mystery author, Jennifer Apodaca races in next with “Fast Boys.” Tess Collins has a huge crush on bad boy NASCAR driver, Ark Underwood. She’s at the races for the weekend with her current beau, only to realize the tabloid journalist is using her to get the dirt on Ark. When a dead body turns up in Ark’s hotel room, Tess feels responsible and decides to do a little undercover work of her own.

Tess is sweet girl who’s been looking for love in all the wrong places. She’s also had a crush on Ark since he rescued her from an ocean riptide when she was a child. Her crush maybe a little unhealthy in a grown woman, and as a therapist she realizes that. But then she and Ark are thrown together, and she soon learns the real thing is a whole lot better than the fantasy.

Another mystery author, Nancy J. Cohen, rounds out the collection with “Three Men and a Body.” Heather Payne has agreed to compete in a reality show, grand prize being a bed-and-breakfast in Winter Park, Florida. However, no sooner are she and her contestants in residence than a dead body turns up and mysterious accidents are happening. Will Heather and hunky carpenter, Rex Gerard, be able to get to the bottom of things before the final curtain lands on them?

With the reality show backdrop, there are plenty of suspects and backstabbing to go around. Rex is a charming Alpha flirt, and Heather is a genuinely nice person who wants everyone to succeed – even if she wants the grand prize for herself.

All of these stories are quick and fun, making the mysteries very light. Brain-bending mysteries are a daunting task when faced with a short page count, and all the authors make the wise decision to include a healthy dollop of humor to keep the reader engaged and turning the pages. “Wicked” Women Whodunit certainly isn’t high art, but it’s a quick breezy read and a great collection to unwind with. Brava’s debut turn at mystery fiction will certainly make readers curious for more.

--Wendy Crutcher


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