The wait is over – Diane Mott Davidson is back, and she seems energized by her hiatus. The change in publishers has only brought one difference – the recipes are in the back instead of throughout the book – but really, that just makes them easier to find. Either you like Davidson’s heroine, Goldy Shultz, or you don’t. I love Goldy and her whole family – her dashing policeman husband, Tom; her sometimes sullen but always interesting teenage son, Arch; and her flamboyant best friend Marla, who shares the ultimate bond with Goldy: they have the same ex-husband. The aforementioned ex-husband, John Richard Korman (called by Goldy and Marla at all times the “Jerk”), is present at the kickoff luncheon of the book, which is full of the doctors and Aspen society Goldy knew in her old life as a doctor’s wife. Of course, Goldy is now a caterer, and her ex is freshly out of prison. He beat Goldy up when he was married to her, and finally beat one of his girlfriends so badly it sent him to jail. But he’s back, and as nasty as ever.
I have to applaud Davidson for finally dealing with the ever present problem of the Jerk – following all the best mystery rules, he’s the nastiest character around, and so of course he’s shortly bumped off. Goldy is relieved on the one hand but devastated by what the Jerk’s death is doing to her son, who has, after all, lost his father. This is what sets Davidson apart, I think, from other cozy writers – who mostly follow the same (and effective) Murder She Wrote formula – her characters are truly interesting, and the hint of the dark side of life that informs who Goldy is makes this series more compelling. The plot in this one – while involving the Jerk’s death – also has so many red herrings and clues I suspect Davidson had a ball writing the story. Goldy and Marla lurch all over town to places like the local strip club and the country bar up the street (where Goldy runs into an Elvis impersonator). Another strength of Davidson’s (and this is shared by many other cozy writers) is her lack of social snobbery. Goldy is as willing to listen to a stripper and a lowly waitress as she is to listen to a powerful and wealthy developer. Everyone is taken not at face value, but weighed for the actual truth of their words. That may be a bit heavy of a weight to place on a series that is, frankly, primarily a completely enjoyable diversion – but it’s a welcome subtext. I’m always happy to get re-acquainted with Goldy, and I suspect there are a legion of readers out there who feel the same.