Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Thirty-two and a Half Complications, by Denise Grover Swank

Really, that about covers it.  

But, since we've waited a while for this installment in the Rose Gardner Mysteries, it probably deserves more hyperbole than that.  Although it's hard to go overboard when a book is this good.

I loved this book.  Until I hated it. Then I loved it again.  Really, though:


The book starts about a week or two after Thirty-one and a Half Regrets leaves off.  Mason and Rose are living together in the farmhouse Rose's birth mother left her, Joe is ... around, and Rose's sister Violet is busy, um, being Violet. Which does not turn out well.  Everyone else is here, too; Jonah the preacher, Rose's landscaping employee Bruce Wayne, Neely Kate, Miss Mildred, and, of course, Rose's dog, Muffy.  Mason's mother even makes an appearance!  

Poor Rose. She just falls into trouble like a Slinky tumbling down a staircase.  She doesn't do anything to make it happen, she's just always in the wrong place at the wrong time. This time, it's a bank robbery.  She's been paid in cash for a large job, and Violet has forgotten to make the bank deposit, so Rose does it. Except before she can hand her money over to the teller, the bank gets taken off, Rose annoys one of the robbers, and the local constabulary just makes it all worse by being... themselves. It's all downhill from there, as Rose then discovers a dead body, makes a deal with the devil, narrowly evades arrest, and tries to host her first Thanksgiving in her new home.  All while seeing visions and throwing up.  

The thing is, these people are people you know. Rose is your friend, the girl you went to school with and chat with in line at the bank, and you know you'd sit down and drink sweet tea with the girl.  Ms. Swank's characters are three-dimensional and conflicted and human and real and when you read a Rose Gardner book, you feel like you've been taken to visit Henryetta, Georgia.  The conversations, the idioms, the characterizations, even the weather, are purely perfect.  Denise has these people and places down pat, but she's not letting them stagnate.  No sir-ree bob cat tail! (Trust me, they say stuff like that.)  It's nice to stop in and visit, though, and see what's going on.

Well, Joe's still around.  He's living in Henryetta, determined to win Rose back from Mason, although the tack he takes seems a little counterproductive.  Can't blame the guy, though; he's still got his father and Hilary to contend with, and now it seems as if Violet wants into the mix.

You know I don't do spoilers, but suffice it to say that financial necessity takes our Rose down a lot of paths she might never have trod otherwise.  She becomes involved with a guy named Skeeter who is... fun.  A criminal, and a little scary, but fun.  He and Rose are a delight to watch in this book.

Ultimately, Rose solves the crime (was there every any doubt?) and things settle down.  A bit.  For a few minutes.  We are left with some cliffhangers, which makes sense since there are least three more novels, and a novella, planned for this series.  Possibly more.  It also makes sense because, just like in my life or yours, Rose's life doesn't ever settle down all the way, with every t crossed and i dotted.  Just as in reality, Rose's life is messy and complicated and never easy. Isn't that why we love her?

There are issues, of course.  At least, for me.  I love Joe Simmons. I can relate to Joe Simmons.  I am #TeamJoe all the way.  And he really gets the dirty end of the stick in this book.  I have no idea where Swank is going with the triangle she's crafted in this series, but if you want to keep both men as viable options, you don't accuse one of pretty much everything bad including tearing the wings off flies and kicking puppies.  And that one kiss?  (You'll know the one I mean when you read.)  Joe is a lot of things, but he's not that.  And Mason?  You'd think the guy could walk on water while simultaneously feeding the hungry and saving the whales.  Most of the time Swank's characterizations are excellent, but the gap between our two male protagonists is widening and that's not conducive to romantic tension.  Or to my happiness, really, although I'm fairly certain that doesn't factor into Swank's writing.

On the up side... she didn't go there. Again, no spoilers, but there is a trite, common, teeth-grindingly cheeesy plot trick that a lot of lesser authors use to create resolution or tension or whatever. Swank uses that little trope carefully, sparingly, and in the end, well, it's all sleight of hand.  Yay for that, Denise.  I knew you wouldn't take the easy way out.

This is a great book, worthy of the series, and worth every second you spend with it.  I spent 14,400 of them with this one. That's 4 hours, for those of you who can't find your calculators.  And that should tell you something right there; I read this book in FOUR HOURS!!!!  

I cannot recommend this book, or the Rose Gardner Mystery series highly enough. I have convinced many people to start reading these and now they are as hooked as I am.  If you are already a fan of Denise and/or Rose Gardner, this book is going to make you happy, sad, furious, afraid, tense, and ultimately gratified for the glimpse into your favorite fictional southern town.  If you're not already strung out on Swank and her fabulous series, get the whole lot of them, take a week off work, and read them. You won't be sorry.  Heck, the first one's free!  You like free books, right? Of course right. 

And, the newest entry on the life and times  of Rose Gardner and her little dog Muffy, too:

Over all, a very rewarding read.

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