Review 1829: Insomniacs, Inc.

Full disclosure: Peggy Schimmelman is my cousin’s wife, and I received an ARC in exchange for a free and fair review.

Jack and Marilyn are a retired couple living in a Northern Californian suburb. They are political conservatives who have lived there many years and are disappointed at the direction the neighborhood is taking as more racially and politically diverse people move out from the city. Alejandra, across the street, has junk collecting on her property and is Hispanic. Jack wonders if she is “an illegal.” Michael is a musician who plays loud music and has people coming and going at all hours. They do not approve of Rachel, a gay woman whose lover recently died, and Lisa, who is closer to their age, seems unfriendly. They can never remember the name of the little old Asian woman who lives next door. Ching? Chang? Chung? (It turns out to be Zhang.)

They are soon appalled to learn that their neighbor Michael is dead. Rumors abound, and they hear that he was murdered—fed a Thai peanut dish when he is allergic to nuts.

Marilyn is not impressed when Detective Andy Thacker appears, especially as his focus seems to be more on dessert than on the crime. But he lets fall several clues about the case, asking about a strip club, an elementary school, and some porn sites. Soon, Marilyn, who begins suffering from insomnia after a prowler is spotted in the neighborhood and Alejandra receives a letter containing racial slurs, finds herself reluctantly teaming up with Alejandra and Rachel, the three meeting in the middle of the night to try to solve the crime.

Insomniacs, Inc. is a light-handed cozy mystery with an engaging heroine that explores the themes of political and racial divisiveness. The novel suffers a bit from its characters’ inability to do much detective work themselves, a problem that pops up occasionally in mystery novels that feature amateur detectives. It also has a little too long of a wrap-up at the end. Overall, however, I found it well-written and entertaining, exploring some important themes of our current times with a light hand. I’m afraid I guessed the culprit fairly early, but there were lots of complications that I didn’t figure out, including motive.

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Review 1553: Whippoorwills

Full disclosure: Peggy Schimmelman is my cousin’s wife, although I have never met her.

Whippoorwills is primarily an epistolary novel set in the Missouri Ozarks and Northern California. The premise of the novel is that Leigh, in California, wants to write a novel about Rosie’s friend, Chrystal, who disappeared when the girls were in high school. The two women are also linked by Melody, Rosie’s friend and Leigh’s sister, who is now dead.

The story is told in a rambling, folksy way by Rosie in Missouri, as she tries to convey information for the novel to Leigh. Intermittently, we also get a slice of Leigh’s life in California as she struggles with a job she hates and tries to find time to write.

This novel is well written and full of local color, both in its eccentric but likable characters and its vivid colloquial style. For all its expressed premise, it is really about the life of Rosie, whose fundamentalist background and natural naiveté combined with several horrific experiences send her into periodic mental illness.

For patient readers, there is a certain amount of payoff, but you have to embrace its many circumlocutions in Rosie’s eccentric way of expressing herself and just go along for the ride. At first, I wondered if the story of what happened to Chrystal was ever going to get anywhere, but then I realized the story was really about Rosie.

I did feel, though, that the novel was a bit too long and wandering and that the sections about Leigh didn’t add much to it. I enjoyed much of it, though, and found some of it touching.

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