Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A good day for reading

A Bad Day for Scandal
by Sophie Littlefield

A Bad Day for Scandal is Sophie Littlefield’s third mystery featuring Prosper, Missouri’s answer to… I want to say Clint Eastwood, but that’s not right. Stella Hardesty is one tough lady. Don’t let the sewing machine shop fool you; it’s a cover. Her real calling is meting out justice and vengeance, often in equal parts. Ever since she emancipated herself—permanently—from her abusive husband, she’s been helping out other ladies in the same boat.

Therefore, it really isn’t that unusual when Stella’s phone rings in the middle of a social gathering. Like so many professionals, she’s on call 24/7. Priss Porter’s timing couldn’t be much worse, though. Stella was entertaining, among others, the one man she should be keeping her distance from, Sheriff “Goat” Jones, and for once, things seem to be moving forward between the two of them. But Priss is over at her brother’s, in town from Kansas City, insisting that she needs to see Stella immediately.

It has been said that friends will help you move, and that really good friends will help you move bodies. Well, rest assured, Stella and Priss aren’t THAT close. Stella wants nothing to do with the little problem decomposing in Priss’s trunk. When Stella proves to be unbuyable, Priss moves on to blackmail to elicit her help. That doesn’t work either. Unfortunately, before Stella can get a feel for how to handle Priss, both she and her brother turn up missing. The Sheriff is looking at Stella askance. And Stella and her associates again find themselves following a convoluted path in search of answers.

What I described above are the opening scenes of an enjoyable enough mystery, but unusually for the genre, it’s not the plots that make this series. The mysteries are well-plotted, fast-paced, and complex enough that I’ve never come near to figuring out who done it on my own. Perhaps more impressively, Ms. Littlefield hasn’t fallen back on the same structure or type of story, though the series’ premise suggests she would or could. Nonetheless, each outing finds Stella in a different kettle of fish. Still, for me, these stories are all about character.

I’ve always been able to hear Stella’s distinctive voice in my head, but it was delightful to finally hear it in audiobook form, read by the talented Barbara Rosenblat. Ms. Littlefield strikes a perfect balance between the light elements and the dark ones in her novels, and Ms. Rosenblat gets this balance just right, too. There’s no denying that these books are exceedingly funny, but there’s nothing cute about them. Ms. Rosenblat mines all the humor while still bringing every character realistically to life. It’s worth noting that she does an unusually good job with the male characters. And while Stella is at the center of this universe, over the course of three novels, her world has been fully peopled with individuals that jump off the page. There’s her sidekick, Chrissy; Todd, the teenager across the street; and the Green Hat Ladies—to name but a few.

I guess you could jump into this series with any of the books, but when reading such delicious characters, personally, I think you’d get more pleasure starting at the beginning and watching the relationship and character arcs develop. Both Littlefield and Hardesty seem to be improving with each tale. So far, I’m three for three with Sophie and Stella. I’ve read them on paper, on my Kindle, and now on audio. As far as I can tell, there’s no wrong way to enjoy these novels.

Added bonus:  Totally inane 16 second interaction...

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