Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Hide and Snake Murder: A Shay O'Hanlon Caper
Jessie Chandler
Midnight Ink
Trade paperback, $14.95, 261p

Life has a way of getting complicated for Shay O'Hanlon. A thirty-something lesbian, Shay is co-owner of the Rabbit Hole, a coffee shop in Minneapolis, Minnesota, her hometown. Shay has had a reputation for being the "Tenacious Protector" of her family and friends, standing up to bullies since grade school. When she was ten years old, Shay was in a car accident that killed her mother and the son of Edwina Quartermain, her mother's best friend. Edwina became a de facto mother for Shay.  Intensely loyal to her family of blood and choice and still haunted by the accident, Shay is the smart-mouthed, first person narrator of Jessie Chandler’s Hide and Snake Murder: A Shay O'Hanlon Caper.

Basil Lazowski, an old schoolmate and ne'er do well, better known as Baz the Spaz, has called Shay for help and she finds herself drawn into a series of bizarre and often confusing events that will take her to the other end of the Mississippi and back. Baz needs to find a stuffed snake that he might have "borrowed" from a house where he was cleaning duct-work for "Ducky Ducts Duct Cleaning: we clean your pipes slick as a whistle, guaranteed." (4) Some very scary men want the stuffed reptile returned. Hide and Snake Murder is the second installment of Chandler's series that started with Bingo Barge Murder and it continues the fast paced hilarity of the first novel.

Shay, with one of her best friends, Nicholas Cooper -- better known as Coop, a member of the local environmental activist group the "Green Beans" and makes his living as a computer geek-- and Baz fly to New Orleans in search of said fuzzy serpent which is currently believed to be in the hands of Baz's aunt, Agnes.  With other members of a group of crafty poker players known as the Mad Knitters, Agnes has gone to the Big Easy for a holiday of gambling, live music, food and drink. 

Shortly after Shay et al arrive in New Orleans, they find that Baz's "big scary men" are real and chasing them.  Their initial escape turns into a strange and funny series of events and re-acquaints Shay with an old friend who is currently one of a group of buskers working Jackson Square. The bad guys are hot on their heels, and it's only by luck that the entire group returns to Minneapolis.  Various twists and chase scenes follow and Shay's gang of amateur detectives stumble into more trouble before they are out of it.

“Caper” is a good subtitle for this series.  Not a traditional mystery, the plot of Hide and Snake Murder has a certain Keystone Cops element. The gang tends toward breaking and entering, with varying degrees of competence and legality, to uncover answers. No one is entirely who they seem in this romping story and the reader must be willing to suspend belief in the more serious and technical law enforcement procedures and processes.

The characters of Hide and Snake Murder are the real gems of the story. They are richly faceted with distinct flaws. Chandler’s respect and affection for them shows through the novel. She allows the reader to laugh with them. For example, Rocky, another classmate of Shay and Nick, struggles with developmental issues, has a charming tendency to address people by their full name as well as providing unusually detailed bits of information as, “You must put pressure on the wound for it to stop bleeding. If it doesn’t stop after twenty minutes of firm, direct pressure, we must seek medical attention. “(82) One can’t forget Shay’s 80 pound boxer named Dawg, by the unimaginative previous owner.  Dawg adds a calming effect as well as comic relief which one doesn’t have to be a dog lover to enjoy.   

Hide and Snake Murder is fast paced and witty.  It is peopled with wonderfully colorful characters, making it a strong second novel in the Shay O’Hanlan Capers series.  I look forward to more stories from Jessie Chandler.