Death, Taxes and Mistletoe Mayhem by Diane Kelly
Death, Taxes and Mistletoe Mayhem by Diane Kelly (St Martin’s Press, 2013) sees IRS Special Agent Tara Holloway pitched into another mystery, this time with a jeweller unlucky enough to be a victim in a series of robberies. In this novella, it may only be two weeks before Christmas, but there’s no holiday when it comes to manipulating accounts to reduce tax liability. So put the festivities on the back burner, we’re off into battle as our intrepid investigator sets off into the Shoppes at Chisholm Trail Mall to audit a jewellery store run by Phillip and Deidre Freitag, who may be partners in crime and to consider the sorry state in which jilted Santa Claus finds himself. This is Chris Rasmussen, a moonlighting, hunky pediatric nurse. On the way, we add Fort worth Police Officer Megan Lutz and Sergeant Brigit, her impressive hair-shedding K-9 partner, who gets her own point of view chapters (as every good dog deserves — they’re not considered man’s best friend for nothing, it’s always for something). For those of you who have led deprived lives and have not read Diane Kelly before, Tara Holloway has two cats but they don’t get to do anything except demonstrate the truism of cupboard love, eat her houseplants, and sick up hairballs at the most opportune moments.
So here comes the pitch. Diane Kelly writes amusing mystery stories featuring Tara Holliday. There are already six in the series with the seventh due in 2014. This novella is what we might consider a crossover episode to introduce Officer Megan Lutz and Sergeant Brigit who are going to feature in a brand new series already labelled Paw Enforcement and due for publication in 2014. The point of the exercise is to strike a balance between three competing elements. There has to be enough investigation for both female leads and the dog to get their teeth into. The plot has to enable us to get a reasonable view of the new crime-fighting duo without it overshadowing the series character who travels wearing the Death, Taxes label. And there has to be an element of romance. I suppose stories of this type fly under the banner of cozy mysteries with a humorous take on sometimes serious crimes, the investigations being run by female characters. This series is slightly nonstandard cozy because our investigator is a federal agent with a gun rather than a local librarian with a flair for solving puzzles. In Tara’s defence, she’s a cat lover which more or less brings her into the fold.
In this instance, the novella length is about right. The tax evasion under investigation is not difficult to solve, merely requiring tedious hours going through digital and paper records to find the necessary evidence. There’s a shop-lifting for Megan to deal with and everyone comes together at the end for the mandatory chase with shots fired and the type of mayhem necessary to justify the novella’s title. This leaves us with the romance element. Perhaps I’m overly curmudgeonly even though we’re getting closer to the festive season, but I’m faintly sceptical Tara and Megan, having only just met, would have spent quite so much money to achieve the result. Yes to the gentle nudging in the right direction. . . hmmm to the tickets to the ball.
That said, Death, Taxes and Mistletoe Mayhem is enjoyable, efficiently delivering amusement which, in these jaded times, is why most of us read books (and novellas) like this.
For a review of a novel by Diane Kelly, see Death, Taxes, and Extra-Strength Hold Hairspray.
A copy of this book was sent to me for review.