There’s a blurb from Loren Estleman on the jacket of this book, and I can well imagine Mr. Estleman, himself a purveyor of the delicious, well turned phrase, enjoying the beautiful language in this book. It’s so lovely, I read it slowly to enjoy the way this woman writes, because it’s unusually pleasing. On top of that (also like Estleman) she’s got a zinger of a story and a fast moving narrative to go along with it. The only novel I can compare this to is Alexander McCall Smith’s The Number One Ladies’ Detective Agency because Meredith Blevins immerses the reader so totally in another culture that when you’re finished with the book it’s almost disorienting to discover that you, in fact, are not a gypsy or even related to one, like the heroine of this novel, Annie Szabo.
“When a cop takes on Queen Elizabeth’s mannerisms, you hope someone else is driving him home.” – from The Hummingbird Wizard
In the fast moving first chapter of this book, Annie marries into a gypsy family and her best friend falls in love with her husband’s sister, Capri, a trapeze artist dressed for the part. We meet Annie’s (very, extremely) colorful mother-in-law, Madame Mina, who isn’t at all pleased to be welcoming a non-gypsy into the fold. By the end of the chapter, Annie’s a widowed mother and her best friend has married and divorced Capri. She and Annie haven’t spoken in years, but suddenly there’s a message on her answering machine from Capri. Annie, a freelance writer, heads off with some overdue bills and an article she’s working on, and she ends up at the fancy San Francisco home of her best friend, Jerry, Capri’s ex. Waiting around for Jerry she has a strange experience in the middle of the night and wakes up to Capri in the kitchen, eating cornflakes and tequila, with the news that Jerry is dead. The oddball team of Mina and Annie – reluctant allies at best – attempting to discover what has happened to Jerry is the journey of this book the same way the journey of The Number One Ladies’ Detective Agency is the story of Precious setting up her Detective agency. In other words, it’s a story to hang a lot of sometimes profound and sometimes funny revelations about life, love, and friendships that stick with you a long time after you’ve finished the book.
“I don’t really like to drink. It’s just that I need to relax,” she said. “It’s been a tough twenty years.” – from The Hummingbird Wizard
The Hummingbird Wizard is actually a real person as well, and he flits in and out of the story (and in and out of Annie’s life) as the story progresses, with the reader’s feelings about him mirroring Annie’s own. I don’t know where Meredith Blevins got the life experience or the knowledge of gypsy culture she needed to write this book, but wherever she got it, I’m pleased she did, because it’s an experience I wouldn’t miss. It will definitely be one of the more memorable reads you’ll have in quite some time, and it delineates one of the more memorable central characters – Madam Mina. To read about Mina careening around San Francisco in a possibly stolen old boat of a Lincoln is a delicious experience, as are many, many others in this truly lovely book.