Hit and Run by Sandra Balzo
Hit and Run by Sandra Balzo (Severn House, 2014) is the third Main Street Mystery and sees AnnaLise Griggs hired to do a biography of Dickens Hart. Back in the 1970s, he achieved some degree of notoriety by opening the White Tail Lodge, a copy of the Playboy concept with scantily clad women waiting tables for the edification of the male (club) members. He has records and diaries. She’s to edit them into a coherent story of his experiences. That he also happens to be her biological father came as a surprise, but she’s adjusting to the idea, particularly as it helps pay her bills. As part of this foray into the past, Dickens wants to track down all the women he has slept with (at least sixty-three before the cut) and any children he might have sired. There’s a plan to remember his children in the will. Yet bringing everyone together over Thanksgiving may be a little dangerous. So the invitations are limited to just those three women who might have produced his children, those children, and assorted ex-wives.
We’re then briefly back in the small town of Sutherton in the High Country of North Carolina to catch up with the extended family of Daisy Griggs and her best friend Phyllis ‘Mama’ Balisteri, before heading back for the Thanksgiving from Hell. Think of it this way. We have a relatively isolated house with a limited number of people to create the Golden Age situation. The invitees are all actual or potential gold-diggers, with a few ex-wives thrown in for good measure, a lawyer, and AnnaLise taking the moral high road, claiming she don’t want none of her natural father’s money. Except, early on in the holiday, she discovers one of the two women she relates to as her mother has run up major medical bills ($83,000 to be precise). Although AnnaLise has been paid half her fee for writing the biography up front, the $50,000 in hand is going to be swallowed up. Ironically, she discovers she may actually not want to share Dickens’ estate with anyone else if Daisy Griggs is really ill. So we get through the first day and early the next morning, the Chef has disappeared and the inevitable body is discovered. Predictably, Dickens is found naked on his bed with the back of his head smashed in by the bottle shown on the jacket artwork.
This gives us the classic murder mystery scenario with almost everyone in residence having a motive for wanting the old man dead. The plot is meticulously put together but I confess to finding it slightly difficult to relate to the geography of the house itself. Since a part of the solution depends on where everyone is, who can see what from where, and where corridors and doors lead to, a floor plan might have been useful. Although I concede that since the journalist as sleuth only discovers some features of the house quite late on in the book, having a plan might enable us readers to pre-empt the solution of the crime. That may be a bad thing. I’m not sure.
I’m also not sure the plot is dynamic enough. Without some of the humour on display in other books she has written to carry us through, I felt this narrative lost pace coming up to the midway point. It does slowly pick up again as AnnaLise naturally comes under suspicion. Since she’s the only proven heir at this point, she would have a motive for killing her natural father before he can change the will to include any other offspring. In the end, the solution to the murder proves rather tragic. There’s a certain quite pleasing malevolence about the plan and, when events don’t quite work out as expected, the cover-up of whodunnit is ingenious. That means I give top marks for the plot in hindsight, but think Hit and Run would have been better if some of the detail had been pruned and a little humour had been injected into the proceedings.
For the review of another book by Sandra Balzo, see Murder on the Orient Espresso.
A copy of this book was sent to me for review.