By Anita Rodgers; reviewed by Jeannette Hartman
Scotti Fitzgerald’s life goes from the peaks to the pits in a matter of days. As she says at the opening of this story, “Life is a conspiracy of crazy, illogical and unfair outcomes . . . I’ve learned that life conspires to make you look like a lunatic and a liar whenever possible.”
After 18 years in the foster care system and 10 trying to find her footing as an independent adult, Scotti is on the threshold of achieving a dream and becoming her own boss.
In six weeks, she’s scheduled to buy Manny the Cuban’s restaurant with the help of wealthy attorney George Manston.
Over years of eating at Manny’s, George has become a friend. He’s in love with her cooking and especially the nut-free brownies Scotti makes specially for him. (George has a severe allergy to nuts.)
But George has gone silent for the past week, making Scotti nervous. She and her best friend and roommate Zelda Carter decide to pay him a visit at his office. There, George’s receptionist Peggy Rizzardini tells them that George is dead – of anaphylactic shock from eating a brownie with nuts.
With no way to replace the money that George was going to invest, Scotti goes into high gear to save her dream. Manny has already told her that he has another buyer. Although the police are calling it an accidental death, George’s wife Maggie claims it’s murder and is offering a $100,000 reward to anyone who provides evidence of who killed him. If Scotti and Zelda can find the killer, Scotti can buy her restaurant.
George had given her a briefcase about a week before he died, but the letter inside is cryptic; the cheap cell phone uninformative; and the flash drive password protected.
There are plenty of people with suspicious motivations to look at, though. A young woman named Lily has come forward claiming to be George’s daughter by his high school sweetheart. His partner Jake Kannanack is slimy and smarmy and stands to get a payout from their law firm’s partners insurance. George’s wife Maggie is angry and vindictive because she believes he was about to leave her for a new life.
Although Scotti doesn’t trust anyone to help her in her investigation, she is persuaded by Zelda to hire a private investigator, Joe Enders. Literally by accident — Zelda rear ends his car – they meet Ted Jordan, owner of a limousine service and a special services veteran with more than a little experience in intelligence operations.
Although cozy mysteries don’t have a lot of appeal to me, this is a fun one. I discovered it on a list of books set in the San Fernando Valley.
That said, there are a lot of flaws in this book. Rodgers hasn’t created much of a sense of place in this novel. Manny’s restaurant and Enders’ office appear to be in the Tujunga / Verdugo Hills area. George and his family live on a pricey street in Pasadena; his partner lives in a divine house in Malibu. But Rodgers is no Raymond Chandler when it comes to creating local ambiance.
Scotti is a fun and spunky character, as is her true blue friend Zelda. The F. Scott Fitzgerald reference to the famous writer’s wife Zelda and his daughter Scottie don’t make a lot of sense in the context of this mystery.
Ted Jordan is a virtually perfect man and suitable for Scotti’s love interest in this book. Her resistance to the relationship, specifically to telling Ted about the problems she’s having buying the restaurant and her need to find George’s killer, seem artificial.
Finally, a good editor would have been helpful. A character named Marsha becomes Marcia within pages; sentences break in odd places; and there are missing words and punctuation. Irritable private investigator Joe Enders exclaims, “Dag nabbit, Scotti!” as if he were an old-fashioned cartoon character.
All the flaws I’ve mentioned notwithstanding, this is an entertaining read. Two other Scotti Fitzgerald mysteries followed this one: MURDER READY TO EAT and DEATH OF THE FAMILY RECIPE. Rodgers also is the author of the Dead Dog Trilogy and stand alone mysteries such as FALSE WITNESS.