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Mean Woman Blues, Julie Smith, Forge, $6.99.

Mean Woman Blues by Julie Smith

Julie Smith's Skip Langdon is one of my favorite characters in mystery - the oversized Skip was a reluctant part of the rarified social world of her New Orleans parents, but to her, the real world of her life as a police officer is the more true to her spirit. She's been through plenty in this series, and this new novel isn't cutting her much of a break. Her out of town boyfriend, Steve, has finally moved in but no sooner does he move in than Skip is targeted once again by her nemesis, the evil and (so she thought) vanished - Errol Jaccomine. Skip and Steve of course have no children, but Skip's gay landlords do, and they are precious to Skip. When it looks like Jaccomine is targeting them as well, Skip goes into full warrior woman mode, and that's where readers most like to see her.

Julie Smith, a former reporter, doesn't mess around. She gives every novel a terrific storyline which takes off and doesn't let up, usually from page one; she has terrific characters; and the New Orleans she writes about is so lovingly described that reading one of her novels is almost like a visit. Her fine first novel in this series, New Orleans Mourning, garnered all kinds of awards for her double portrayal of Skip and the city; many novels further on, there's some shorthand about this established character, but the story is still boffo and if you are looking for an all out entertainment, this book takes no prisoners.

Usually I hate it when an enemy from a character's past resurfaces - why can't they stay in the past? - but Errol Jaccomine is one of the more memorable villains in crime fiction, and it's been hard for Smith to stay away from him (he's appeared in three of the books, including this one). Errol is hiding out in the guise of a TV host who takes people's lives and changes them in a positive way - if they're in trouble with the IRS, for example, he helps them. There are many, many threads in this book, and all of them intersect eventually, but all are interesting, so following them is never a chore, but rather a suspenseful "how will they meet up" enterprise. Smith positively excels at not just her major characters but her minor ones; in this one, Jaccomine's present wife and the broke girlfriend of an obsessive compulsive artist (also featured in another novel) are two of the best. When Skip is forced to go undercover because of a scandal involving missing gravestones, she's able to switch full time to her hunt for Jaccomine, who, she's sure, is behind almost every bad thing happening in the book. If you like Skip, New Orleans, or just a good story, this book is a great bet. And better yet, start from the beginning, and read this whole, delicious series in its entirety.

Julie Smith/Skip Langdon Chronology:
New Orleans Mourning
The Axeman's Jazz
Jazz Funeral
New Orlean's Beat
House of Blues
The Kindness of Stangers
Crescent City Kill
82 Desire


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