by Marilee Brothers, contemporary (2009)
Medallion Press, $15.95, ISBN 978-1-93-475546-4
The Rock And Roll Queen Of Bedlam is the first book in what is meant to be a series of mystery capers featuring Allegra Thome, our heroine. She is a teacher who is in charge of a class full of problematic kids, which will probably explain why she lets her hair down during her free time and joins her grandmother and other women in abusing the karaoke machine at the senior homes.
Life in Vista Valley is pretty... normal. That is, until a student, Sara Stepaneck, vanishes and only Allegra's nephew-in-law (is there such a word?) Nick suspects that Sara didn't just run off with a boyfriend like everyone else suspected. Allegra tries to figure out what happened to Sara, mostly to humor Nick at first, but the more she pokes her nose into the matter, the more she's convinced that Nick is right. Something is not right with Sara's disappearance. Meanwhile, being at the wrong place at the wrong time early in the story allows Allegra to meet Sloan, a DEA officer whose path keeping crossing with hers in this story.
The synopsis at the back cover of this book actually overplays the romantic elements in this story, which may lead to disappointment if you are led to believe that this is a romance novel. It isn't. Think of this as a cozy mystery with some romantic elements. Sloan and Allegra's romance is far from the main focus of this story. The focus is on Allegra playing Nancy Drew.
Honestly, I don't find the mystery too interesting in its own right because much of it is actually made up of stereotypical elements. However, I can't stop turning the pages of this book because the author's buoyant sense of humor and witty writing style click very well with me. Allegra is a very engaging and likable first person narrator because I really enjoy the voice given to her by Ms Brothers. She's pretty real in the sense that she doesn't become an overnight talented Nancy Drew just as she doesn't bumble around like a braindead zombie either. If she makes mistakes, it's because she's out of her depths, being an amateur and all, and even then, she doesn't come off as too silly in the process. Sloan is a bit of an enigma given that the story is told from entirely Allegra's point of view, but that's okay, since this is just the first book in a series, after all.
The pacing is fine and I really enjoy the way the author weaves in easy humor that works without making the story feel too contrived or coming off as trying too hard. Allegra doesn't go out of her way to be sarcastic or cynical, she comes off instead as a likable ordinary woman with a good sense of humor.
Some elements, like Allegra's oh-so-wacky grandmother, do feel like contrivances, though, as if Ms Brothers is trying for size some of the things that made Janet Evanovich hot to trot enough to write slim very short hardcovers and get away with it. But these elements never overpower the story, so I don't feel too annoyed by the over-the-top old woman and her friends at the end of the day.
The Rock And Roll Queen Of Bedlam is a pretty fun and entertaining cozy mystery that has me laughing out loud at so many places. All things considered, this is a pretty good start for a series.
This book at Amazon.com
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