Thursday, November 6, 2014

Thirty-Three and a Half Shenanigans, by Denise Grover Swank

The latest entry in Swank's Rose Gardner Mysteries is a winner! A great, fun read with lots of mystery and heart, and plenty of action and intrigue, this story is a great continuation or a great series. While nothing is perfect, this book is more than worth the price and the time, especially if you're as hooked on this series as I am.

Let's start by saying that if you've never read any of the Rose Gardner mysteries, you should definitely take advantage of the current sales of the previous books in this series and start from the beginning, Twenty-Eight and a Half Wishes. Because there's a lot of background that will delight and entertain you as you work your way through to this story. Now....

Rose Gardner is the sweetest, strongest, most entertaining southern girl you'd ever want to meet. The people who matter to her are a wonderful collection of funny, sad, warm, helpless, strong, intelligent friends and enemies; together, they fill this story with terrific interaction with our heroine, great lines of dialogue, and an exciting trip from start to finish.

The main story here is that Rose and her BFF, Neely Kate, are looking for Neely Kate's missing cousin. Joe Simmons and Mason Devereaux are working on a secret project that involves both their jobs in law enforcement. The two investigations dovetail and wind up in a conflagration at a strip club in one of Swank's typically tense, chaotic climaxes. Skeeter Malcolm, Fenton County's newest King of the Underworld, is here, too, and he's right in the thick of everything, making threats, providing information, and protecting Rose from all kinds of mayhem while at the same time creating plenty of mayhem of his own.

Hilary, Joe's ex-girlfriend who claims to be carrying his baby (I have my doubts about that) is here to create just a tiny bit of hate and discontent for Rose. She's moved to Henryetta and is still plotting to get Joe on a permanent basis, which is what she pretty much always does. Hils, girl! He's just not that into you!

Violet, Rose's sister, is paying the consequences for her betrayal of Rose and, while they're working on their relationship, things are not what they should be. It's still not clear to me that Violet truly, deeply understands the horrible things she's done to her sister in the past couple of books. Rose is right to take things slowly and carefully.

Neely Kate, pregnant and learning to cook, has a much bigger part in this story than she has in past outings, and she's a delight. She knows everything about every person they come across, it seems, and her juicy little tidbits of information are loads of fun, not to mention helpful to Rose in figuring things out.

Mason's mother, Maeve, has moved to town and set up housekeeping. She's there for Rose a lot, as she does some of the heavy lifting in her son's relationship by providing Rose companionship and insight while he's off doing his "very important job" as assistant DA of Fenton County.

Rose has divided her nursery business and brought in Joe and Bruce Wayne - former pot head slacker turned landscape gardener - as partners and is getting ready to re-open after a disastrous Thanksgiving vandalism.

And we meet Abbie Lee, a deputy sheriff who's burning a torch for Mason. One she'd seemingly like to use to light rose up and cook her to a crisp so as to have a path straight to Mason's heart. Given Rose's consecutive relationships with Joe - a former State Police detective and now Fenton County's Chief Deputy - and Mason, the county's ADA, Abbie has decided that our girl is a "badge bunny," a police groupie, and therefore unworthy of Mr. Devereaux.

The action is engaging and the story is well plotted. The writing, as always, is very good. Swank gets better with every outing and her writing gets tighter and more involving every time she publishes. As prolific as she is, it's amazing that she has time to also improve her work, but she does. I'm never disappointed in a book by Denise Grover Swank, and, as in this case, I'm often surprised at how incredibly good she is. I love this series, and pretty much everything else this talented woman writes.

As I said, nothing is perfect. I have some small complaints. For instance, Rose never mentions her dog, Muffy, without using the phrase "my little dog." After about the 15th time, I kind of wanted to scream that I KNOW THE DOG IS SMALL! Overused words and phrases tend to stand out and get on my nerves. A quibble, I know. Not really worth the mention, but I did it anyway.

Another complaint is that Rose is very big on being independent, taking care of things herself, and being her own person. Laudable, to be sure. But the minute she lands herself in hot water with the law, the first thing she does is calls Joe or Mason to fix things. You can't have it both ways, girl, but again, a small issue.

My biggest complaint about this book is that nothing happens. Not a thing in the overall, start to finish story that this series is telling is addressed. We don't move forward with Hilary's campaign to get Joe and demolish Rose. Nothing happens with Joe and Maeve, Mason's mother; in the novella that precedes this book, they began a friendship that just lays there doing nothing in this book. There's nothing that happens with Violet and Mike, who are divorced but might be working on that. There is no movement with Bruce Wayne, really. We don't even hear from Miss Mildred, Heidi Joy, or Jonah. How do you go to Henryetta and not even peek in at Miss Mildred?

Mason and Rose keep yammering on about how much they love one another, but that relationship really doesn't evolve in this story. There's lots of lip service to it, and there are some life-threatening events that occur and cause much love-pledging and such, but nothing really happens to convince me that these two belong together. (Yes, I'm a fan of Joe/Rose and hope against all hope that they are end game, but that's not my point at all.) Every time Rose tells someone, or the reader, how much she loves Mason, or any time she points out to Joe (for the thousandth time) that she's with Mason now, it sounds to me like she's trying to convince someone of that. Whether it's the audience or herself is what I'm not sure of. Had Joe's father not intervened, Joe and Rose might, and probably would, still be together and at no point has Rose or Mason or Joe or anyone else brought that up. Which reminds me of another thing that doesn't happen.

There is some suspicion on Rose's part that certain events in this book are the doings of Joe's father, a rich, controlling, manipulative megalomaniac who's out to put his son into the White House at all costs. But only Rose seems to see his hand in some of the events in this book. The men in her life - both law-school graduates and experienced investigators who are bright enough to go head to head with her - are oblivious? Really?

Ultimately, while this is a fun outing, an entertaining story, and a pretty good demonstration of Swank's writing chops, and while it's a peek into the always delightful world of Henryetta, Arkansas, there's one main thing it's not. It's absolutely not forward movement. It definitely IS a clear set up for the next installment of the series, and it's certainly a good read, and that's really all it needs to be. Thirty-Three and a Half Shenanigans was just vaguely unsatisfying for a fan of the series, which I am, but that's not to say I didn't like it. Because I really did. I just wish there had been more momentum on the whole.