An Appreciation of Denise Swanson
It's almost unnecessary for me to write a review of a new Denise Swanson book—they sell themselves, though I will say her latest, Murder of a Wedding Belle (Obsidian, $6.99), is an especially funny and enjoyable addition to her now 12 mysteries about school psychologist Skye Denison. Denise has been bringing herself, her humor, and Skye to Ann Arbor since book one, Murder of a Small Town Honey, which launched the series with a bang. I don't think Swanson has either looked back or taken any of her success for granted. It's one of the many, many things that make her such a great person.
While Swanson doesn't exactly write to a formula, she happily hews to genre conventions. To me, she's one of the best at what she does, writing contemporary, humorous cozies with a kick. The only comparable writer, for me, is Donna Andrews. Skye is a great character because she's girly, yes, but she's also smart, capable, and down to earth. Any school system would want her on board.
The girly parts make her relatable—there's a smattering of stuff about clothes and hair, though not too much, and she's pleasantly kicked around a few different guys, a situation that seems nearing a resolution, though to have Skye really settle down might ruin some of the series' spark. At the moment she's committed to police chief Wally Boyd, but Skye is hesitating. I am totally on Skye's side. I like Wally and all but I like Skye unattached even better.
Then there's the mystery part, which Swanson never skimps on. She always sets up a complex story, several suspects, a rich background of interesting characters, and then leavens the whole thing with a very nice sense of humor. Here's a sample:
"If brains were chocolate, he wouldn't have enough to fill an M & M." - from Murder of a Barbie and Ken
"Ya mean they wasted (Mountain) Dew?...You know I raised ‘em better than that. They shoulda knowed to drink it first, then use what the good lord gave ‘em for free to mark their trail." - from Murder of a Wedding Belle
"Unfortunately, the ghosts at the American Legion Hall did not seem to be of the Casper persuasion, and the only idea Skye could come up with was exorcism. Was it too late to ask Father Burns to perform a quick one at A Ghoul's Night Out?" - from Murder of a Royal Pain
The best part is all of the parts work together so well: the humor doesn't overwhelm the characters, the characters don't overwhelm the story, and the story is always chugging along throughout. Swanson almost reminds me of some of the old school work horses of American crime fiction—Mignon Eberhart, Mary Roberts Rinehart, Charlotte Armstrong—reliable, entertaining, the most bang for your reading buck. When she notified me this spring that she'd finally hit the New York Times Bestseller List, I couldn't have been more delighted. She's not only a terrific writer, she's been a wonderful supporter of Aunt Agatha's through the years. Long may she reign.
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