If you’ve not encountered the worlds of Joan Hess, you have many unique hilarious to the point of embarrassing yourself, moments ahead. Practically any one title from her Claire Malloy series could be on my list, but I have a particular fondness for Roll Over and Play Dead. I remember stares from other commuters as I gaffawed over a paperback copy. Because I loved it so much, I made sure I found a first edition and had it inscribed. But then again, I have practically every Claire Malloy in first edition inscribed.
Anyway, Claire also endears me because she is a battered and besieged mother of a teen who speaks in CAPTIAL LETTERS, and the owner of a typical independent bookstore struggling to keep the doors open in the college town of Farberville. She, like many amateur detectives, stumbles over bodies practically daily, and thank goodness she does. Her male friend happens to be a police officer, which doesn’t hurt when it comes to needing inside info.
Miss Emily Parchester’s 77 violets and 2 ugly as sin basset hounds are now in Claire’s care, and Miss Emily on the road for a long vacation. Claire has a problem in assertiveness, it seems, and is doing this favor even though she hates dogs. One slobbery encounter with the 2 beasts leads to her handing over the dog leashes to her rock concert obsessed daughter, Caron, and her best friend, Inez. Of course, all sorts of hell ensues. The dogs go missing, it appears there have been pet snatching incidents in the area lately, and the residents are fighting mad–at one particular person, Newton Churls. Mr. Churls (gotta love the names) buys stray animals, and only strays, he claims, but evidence to the contrary have the petless people on a night prowl for him. Claire is too late to intervene when Churls is found all churled up dead.
The lure of a Joan Hess book is her wild characters, snappy dialog and genuine funny lines and situations. But that’s not to imply nothing of substance is within–to the contrary, the horrible practice of stealing animals for laboratories is exposed, and although Claire is not a pet lover, the other characters are, and we see and feel their pain in the loss of a family member. There was one point in the story I was so convulsed in hysterical laughter, I thought I may pull a muscle.
This is but one in the series, as I mentioned, but you needn’t start at the beginning with a Hess novel–she sticks to the old rule of no spoilers for earlier titles in her later ones. Oh that there were more Ms. Hess’ out there–I’ve been burned more than once because I picked up a mid series book and found a main character was brutally offed or a beloved pet had passed. Joan Hess is also the craziness behind the Maggody series set in her home state of Arkansas. Arly Hanks is sheriff to one of the wackiest character filled towns on the planet–the local revivalist preacher is particularly of interest. His hypocrisy knows no bounds.
How the prolific Ms. Hess manages to write two series a year, and keep all the various peoples in their proper places, I’ve no idea. I’m just pleased as punch that she does.