By Cheri Rae
Can you judge a book by its cover? If so, “Marry, Kiss, Kill,” (Prospect Park Books, 2015) by Anne Flett-Giordano with its clever cover design created by local graphic designer John Roshell, ought to be a good one. But reading the cover blurbs might be a bit more informative, since they’re written by writers and actors commonly associated with television—reviewers who are obviously friends of the author.
Don’t get me wrong, I like David Hyde Pierce and Jane Leeves from “Frasier,” but I’m not sure how their acting talent translates to recognizing the merits of a novel.
The novel introduces the “tall, tan and born-again blond” (not for her religion, but for her relationship with L’Oreal) Nola MacIntire. She staves off her “maudlin fear of middle age” by driving a black convertible Thunderbird, and wearing orange-and-red Kate Spade slingbacks, an eleven hundred dollar Michael Kors peasant blouse and micro-minis on the job. She cleverly chose Elvis Costello’s “Watching the Detectives” as her ringtone, and had a long-ago affair with her handsome detective-partner of 15 years. She is Deputy Chief of Detectives with the Santa Barbara Police Department, initially solving a murder of a character, Charles Beaufort, obviously based on the late Santa Barbara street singer, Mason B. Mason.
Part-time local resident Flett-Giordano—who refers to Santa Barbara as “truly heaven on earth” in her introductory notes—sets the scene against the backdrop of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, and refers to locales from the Arlington to the Courthouse and the Fiesta Five, to Carlito’s and Dargan’s in the first three pages alone.
She can turn a phrase: “She reached into the pocket of her old gray cardigan. It was drab and shapeless and amazingly comfortable. She only put it on when she was home alone, and even then it was always with the silent prayer that she wouldn’t choke on an almond or something and literally be caught dead in it.” But too often she uses gimmicky wordplay, substituting contrived schtick for stylish substance.
And she drops in flip popular culture references that are supposed to make the reader warm up to the work. But phrases like “AARPathetic,” and “all Bluetooth and no bite” that are supposed to be clever seem clunky, and naming every product from the detective’s MAC lipstick to her mock-Chanel tote and another character’s Ana Khouri gold cuff bracelets.
I bought this book as a birthday gift for my husband, who is a sucker for murder-mysteries, particularly when they’re set in Southern California. But two-thirds through, he literally threw the book across the room and declared, “I cannot read any more of this crap.”
I thought he was overreacting and being too picky. I really wanted to like this debut novel that starts out with some promise, with the fun of knowing the locations where the action takes place. Solving the single murder of the street-singer character I cared about would have been fine. But the book takes a gratuitously violent turn into incredulity with too many characters, too many murders, improbable romances, an eco-terror attack and far-flung locales that stretch all the way to Vandenberg. Turns out, I was ready to toss the book at exactly the same plot development he did. Disengaged and no longer caring what happened, I doggedly kept reading, cover-to-cover.
Just because I love all things Santa Barbara.
While Flett-Giordano’s convoluted plotting and relentless product placement exhausted my patience, readers who like occasionally funny phrases and local and brand-name references in their fiction might enjoy this book a lot more than I did.
Clearly, the Emmy-Award-winning writer intends to continue to writing about the life, times and things of detective Nola MacIntire.