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American/Cozy Mysteries

Blue Twilight, Jessica Speart, Avon, $6.99.

Blue Twilight by Jessica Speart

This is the eighth book in Jessica Speart's Rachel Porter series. Porter is a U.S. Fish and Wildlife agent, which gives her not only territorial flexibility, but flexibility regarding types of endangered species she deals with. In other novels she's tackled tortoises, smuggled chimps, antelopes, snakes, and birds, and in this one her quest is one of the most beautiful and fragile creatures on earth: the butterfly. And not just any butterfly, but the rarest of the rare - the "Lotis Blue" - so rare that finding it would almost be like finding a piece of the Holy Grail. Of course Rachel doesn't begin her quest feeling this way - she begins her quest feeling like she's being punished, put on "insect duty" for acting up a few too many times. The story has two threads - one involving another missing Fish and Wildlife agent, and one involving the runaway daughter of a friend of a friend. On top of this, she's dealing with the difficult recovery of her FBI boyfriend, Jake Santou, who, injured in the last book, is now apparently hooked on painkillers. For comic relief, San Franciscan Rachel has a Chinese landlady who is trying to teach Rachel how to cook and is busy rearranging the furniture and hanging mirrors to ward off demon ghosts and spirits. Rachel's upstairs neighbor, Terri, is a transvestite who has no kitchen and spends lots of time eating with Jake and Rachel. If this all sounds incredibly complicated, it isn't - Speart skillfully combines all the ingredients like a brilliant cook, knowing just when to add an ingredient.

The kickoff incident has Rachel investigating someone trapping butterflies and raising them for profit. She pretends to need a job and accompanies the butterfly trapper to his home to find out how he tends to his catch - she's horrified and fascinated at the same time, just as I imagine the reader will be. She manipulates him into giving her information which she follows up, but she also gets sucked into the search for the missing daughter of her friend, and eventually, the two plot threads intersect, meanwhile taking Rachel on a tour of tattoo parlors, Mendecino, and a Vampire bar (the book must be read to find the part about the Vampire bars). Overall this is a very zippy, well done book, and it left me fascinated by the world of butterfly collectors and the Lotis Blue butterfly in particular. Frequently using some very evocative writing - often in the form of Rachel's dreams - Speart is able to really give her story and her character some emotional depth. If you're a fan of Nevada Barr's Anna Pidgeon mysteries - or even if you aren't - Jessica Speart is well worth a look.

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