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January Thaw by Jess Lourey

September 30, 2013 Leave a comment

January Thaw by Jess Lourey

Well, here we are again with January Thaw by Jess Lourey (Midnight Ink, 2014) the ninth in The Murder-By-Month series, happy as can be, all good friends and jolly good company in Battle Lake. It being Minnesota, it’s snowing. Mrs Berns is acting like Cassandra and predicting the thaw to release the town from winter’s icy grip even though everyone knows spring won’t arrive until March. Christmas has passed with the garlands stored for next year’s celebrations along with the left-over candy canes for Halloween. Mira James has finally taken the plunge with Johnny Leeson (several months too late, some may say), a local attorney actually employs her as an investigator when the need arises (although she’s not yet formally qualified as a PI) and, given the way Death has pursued her over the last eight books, there’s been a lull. Yes no dead bodies for at least a week. For those of you who enjoy this series, you’ll understand this is worth an entry in the Guinness Book of Records.

Jess Lourey

Jess Lourey

As a “full-time” occupation, librarianship still holds her in its deadly thrall although she’s tempted to bid for the local franchise as a mortician. That is until she and Mrs Berns answer the call of a kitten mewling in an alley. Some people are just born suckers as Police Chief Gary Wohnt is quick to point out. Then there’s Kennie the town’s Mayor and her narcoleptic dog who’ve decided to branch out into plant healing. And finally, we get to the Winter Wonderland festivities (surprisingly, the town has a lake — can’t think how that happened) which Mira is to write about wearing her part-time journalist’s hat for the Battle Lake Recall (there will be questions asked at the end of this review to see how much you remember). To add to the celebrations, thanks to the work of Carter and Libby Stone, the Prospect House and Civil War Museum is formally to open its doors to the public. After this, everyone is due to jump on the lake with their boots on and skate to their heart’s content — yes, the ice really is that thick in Minnesota, particularly when the lake is on the shallow side. After a night’s consumption of alcoholic anaesthetic, brave townies then crack the ice and jump into the lake to prove their vital bits won’t drop off when exposed to water during the winter months. Except, as you would expect, everything has to be put on hold when Mira finds another body (which, unfortunately, albeit temporarily, includes a pullback from hot sex with Johnny). Fortunately, there’s always a Nut Goodie to ease sexual tensions, even the unwelcome ones.

This is another delightful conflation of murder, mystery and light-hearted banter as our intrepid investigator, ably assisted most of the time by her geriatric sidekick, sets off to untangle murder, drug trafficking and a cold case from the past. With the possible assistance of a previously unrecognised ghost, our dynamic duo make new friends, look after old ones when they get hurt, and practice their breaking and entering skills (not so much of a challenge when you know where the spare key is kept). The result solves the various cases in hand and advances the cause of justice across the generations. In the process, we see more of the town of Battle Lake and watch a new calmness replace our heroine’s uncertainty. Those of you following this excellent series will know she’s been not a little traumatised by events in the last few months and is distinctly twitchy about life — not even being prepared to risk sleeping on top of the bed in case the sky falls on her. But with mature words of wisdom from Mrs Berns and a new shoulder to cry on when a bereaved mother and two young children come into town, she manages to rediscover some of the gung-ho self-confidence that went missing from her life before Christmas. January Thaw therefore sees her beginning to emerge from the winter emotional cave where she’s been hunkering down. In the end, she’s charging into danger again like none of last year ever happened. This is good to see. The residents of Battle Lake were worried about her and we readers get to see a newly restored heroine ready to face the next month’s challenge, whatever that may be.

For reviews of other books by Jess Lourey, see:
December Dread
November Hunt
The Toad House Trilogy: Madmen.

A copy of this book was sent to me for review.

December Dread by Jess Lourey

December Dread by Jess Lourey (Midnight Ink, 2012) book 8 in the Murder-By-Month series and we’re back in Battle Lake, Minnesota as Mira James, our heroine, continues the demanding task of trailer-sitting, freelancing for the local newspaper, keeping the library shelves in order, and solving enough murders to justify the nickname Mortuary Mira. With only ten killing days to go before Christmas, she’s watching the elves carefully to see when they will deliver the next body. Except all she gets is what may be an invitation from the Candy Cane Killer — he’s the one who only kills brown-haired women about the same height and weight as our heroine during the month of December. Ah, so she could be the body. That would be a good switch — a kind of Ghost where she and Patrick Swayze get to make out while solving her murder. As a foretaste of the killing spree, two bodies are discovered over in White Plains — the woman and her dog — about an hour’s drive away. Unfortunately, that’s not a safe distance when it comes to dedicated serial killers. So she goes to show her invitation to Police Chief Gary Wohnt but discovers the card she received is part of a genuine marketing campaign. This doesn’t stop her from hitting the library’s computer. Before you can say Dagnabit or whatever her password is, she’s knee-deep in news about the killer. So because she fits the physical profile, Battle Lake conspires to send her home to her mother in Paynesville where she’s supposed to feel safer. Shame there’s Kevin Bacon and not Patrick Swayze on her old bedroom wall. The other advantage is the chance for her to go through the certification course for qualifying as a PI. If she gets a licence, she can legitimately earn a little money as an investigator rather than having to solve all these murders for free.

Jess Lourey by Jane Bailey

Then the next body appears. Santa’s really speeding up his deliveries this December, and he’s always thoughtful. This victim is the homecoming queen. Mira knew her at high school. It kinda keeps the death in the family. So, after some initial reluctance — the consensus seems to be you leave serial killers to the FBI — she and the indefatigable Mrs Berns decide to set a trap. Why leave it to the professionals to have all the fun. Yet there’s also the question of the orange begonias tugging at the back of her mind. Candy’s a bit crude in messaging terms. In Victorian times, flowers and their colours had specific meanings so, when people sent each other a bunch, they were actually sending each other coded messages. For the record, begonias were symbols of warning and orange is a reference to passion or desire. Not that this captures the meaning of Mira at all. She’s been practicing abstinence. In fact, it says something about the sender’s view of the women who received them. For those who can read the symbolism, they are being warned they are acting in a sexually inappropriate way.

I confess to becoming something of a fan of Mira James and so, by extension, Jess Lourey. As Mira demonstrates during both the PI course she goes through and in the real-world investigation, she has a flair for quick assessments of people and situations. Give her more time to think and she works through the available information and usually arrives at the right answer. As to Jess Lourey, she has a flair for creating an entirely credible cast of characters. Too often, you read a book and only encounter cardboard cutouts and stereotypes. December Dread is full of people you could meet in any small town anywhere in the world. As a final thought, I should explain the title. You can see it at two levels. If a serial killer with a known profile for selecting victims sends out candy calling cards, there’s bound to be dread in the community. But, in this instance, it’s also a reference to Mira’s need to overcome her fears about who she is and what she wants out of life. This is not simply a case of the girl coming back to her home town and facing those she knew as she was growing up. She should also make sober decisions about what to do about her love life. Sometimes, fear holds you back and stops you realising the potential in your life for happiness. December Dread is great fun with a nice puzzle for our heroine to solve. It’s definitely worth picking up! As a final thought: if you have a wooden leg, always hide it in plain sight.

For reviews of other books by Jess Lourey, see:
December Dread
November Hunt
The Toad House Trilogy: Madmen.

A copy of this book was sent to me for review.

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