Tuesday, February 27, 2018

4. Fool's Puzzle by Earlene Fowler

Picked this up at Chainon just because it is getting so hard to find paperbacks that I can actually carry around with me.  I was hoping for a decent mystery from the 90s along the lines of Sue Grafton and that's what I got.  It's a bit more weighted towards long-term narratives and romance than I had wanted, but was overall quite decent.  It all takes place in a central california town that was once very rural but slowly being transformed by LA money.  The heroine is recently widowed and works at the local art center.  There really is nothing about her situation that would lead to investigating, except her own dogged personality.  When she discovers one of the artist's body just after seeing her irresponsible niece flee the scene, she gets involved.  The temporary police of chief is always on her ass for getting in the investigation but of course that tension hides an underlying spark between them...

I see now that this is the first book in a long series and though Benni Harper is the name on the series, I suspect the appeal is as much about all the other characters in the town, who are richly portrayed.  I could see how people could get into this but it's not enough of my style to continue it.

One interesting thing is the sexual politics.  They have changed a lot even from 1994, or at least my perception of them has.  I believe that Fowler intended to portray the budding romance between the chief and Benni Harper as an appealling love connection.  It just rings really odd today.  The chief is a total dick at first, always yelling at her and just really not nice or respectful. I think that part was a bit of a trope where the gruff guy and pissed-off lady actually have lots of sexual tension.  Okay, but he still was really quite jerky.  But the real weird thing was how he crossed tons of borders that I don't think would be considered at all romantic today.  He puts her in jail.  He grabs her and kisses her.  He stays overnight at her house twice against her will and takes her car keys away.  He braids her hair against her will (he is of course an expert french braider because he had 3 younger sisters).  At the end, when they decide to start a relationship, it just feels not really well-earned on his part.  It's like just by dint of being super aggressive all the time, she decides he is worthy of being her first love since her husband died 9 months ago (!). 

I do like these paperbacks from the 90s that I can just beat to hell and not have to worry about preserving.