Small Town Trouble by Jean Erhardt ~ Review by Alexis Hall

small-town-trouble-jean-erhardtTitle: Small Town Trouble

Author: Jean Erhardt

PublisherTwo Terriers Press

My Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

From the Publisher:

Meet Kim Claypoole, restaurateur, reluctant heroine and amateur sleuth with moxie galore. “I’d had a feeling all along that this wasn’t going to be my day. But I hadn’t been prepared for things to go this badly…”

In Small Town Trouble, the first in a series from mystery writer Jean Erhardt, we get acquainted with Kim Claypoole’s irreverent and witty ways of dealing with the peculiar characters and events that she finds in her life.

Claypoole’s adventure begins as she leaves her home in the Smoky Mountains to help save her kooky mother Evelyn from financial disaster. Setting off to assist Evelyn (i.e., “the other Scarlett O’Hara”) with her newest personal crisis, Claypoole leaves in her wake her Gatlinburg doublewide, her restaurant, The Little Pigeon and her restaurant partner and sometimes best friend Mad Ted Weber as well as a budding secret love affair that’s hotter than an Eskimo in July.

Claypoole’s savior complex leads to more trouble when she bumps into an old flame in her hometown who asks for her help clearing her hapless brother of murder charges. In true Claypoole fashion, she gets more than she bargained for when she gets dragged into a complicated quest to find the true killer complete with topless tavern dancers, small town cops, a stream of backwater characters-even a meeting with the Grim Reaper. Can Claypoole muddle her way through the murky depths of this bizarre murder mystery before it’s too late?

With biting humor and wit, Small Town Trouble will leave you guessing what’s around the next corner in the quirky life of Kim Claypoole.

My View

Small Town Trouble is the first book of the Kim Claypoole Mystery series (book two to be released June 2014). It follows the heroine (unsurprisingly named Kim Claypoole) as she returns to her hometown of Fogarty in order to help her emotionally immature mother navigate the ever-deepening mire of her financial difficulties.

This review will contain spoilers.

Anyway, on arrival in Fogarty, Kim discovers that a local topless bar owner has shown up dead in his own carpark with his throat slit and his genitals severed. Because Kim isn’t so much a detective as the part-owner of a restaurant, she mostly ignores this fact an gets on with … well … the job she’s actually in town to do. Which I sort of appreciated on one level, because it added an air of psychological plausibility to proceedings, but I did spend about the first dozen chapters thinking “well this is all very interesting, but are we going to get any more information on that murder any time soon?”

To give Kim her due, she’s distracted by the rather more pressing mystery of the clearly pseudonymous “Larry White”, who is offering her mother far more money than is sensible for a tiny parcel of land and a failing local radio station. She’s also rather distracted by her tempestuous but currently off-again affair with minor TV personality, and by the reappearance in her life of an old schoolfriend, Amy Delozier, with whom she has – shall we say – unresolved tensions.

The book moves along at a fair clip – Kim bounces from one scenario to the next with minimal downtime, and so there’s never any sense that things are getting bogged down or losing momentum. That said, I’m not sure I ever really felt that she had much of a handle on the actual central mystery. She spends a lot of time running around following people, chasing up leads and chasing down clues, but the killer is finally revealed only because he actually confronts Kim and Amy, monologues at them, and brings a knife to a gunfight. It’s fairly explicit in the final showdown that Kim isn’t within a million miles of working out who the guilty party actually is, and since the killer has already managed to fit somebody up for the murders and eliminated everybody who knows about the Big Secret that the murders were designed to cover up, the smart thing to do would be to just drop it.

Then again, to be honest, he doesn’t seem like that smart a guy, so maybe it makes sense.

Something I had a bit of trouble with was working out where Small Town Trouble situated itself on the cozy/hardboiled spectrum. The actual murders seem quite brutal (what with the dick-chopping and all, although in many ways this was a nice antidote to river of dead prostitutes that seems to kick off about seventy percent of mystery series), but the core premise of the mystery seems much more four-colour, and the actual investigation seems to borrow most of its imagery from the less threatening end of the amateur sleuth spectrum (there are fairly explicit references to Nancy Drew and Murder, She Wrote and the ultimate unmasking of the villain has a distinct Scooby Doo quality about it). Overall it shakes down into a space that is best described as “fun, not amazingly serious, and with some occasional real wtf moments.”

I liked Kim as a narrator – she’s quirky, sardonic and no-nonsense without being a total dick to everybody for no reason. She tends to be a bit harsh about the husbands of women she’s attracted to but, let’s face it, who isn’t? I get a fairly strong feeling that Kim’s character is modelled quite strongly on the author’s personal experiences. I get this primarily from the fact that a chunk of the “about the author” page (the part about having worked as a store detective, and having been gradually promoted to more and more managerial – and thus more and more tedious – positions) is actually repeated verbatim as part of Kim’s backstory in the early chapters. Not that there’s anything strictly wrong with this, although it was a little jarring to be halfway through an author bio and suddenly find myself reading the exact same words I’d been reading at the start of the book.

I also really respected the fact that Kim seems to be in her early forties. It’s rare, in our youth-fixated society, to see a book with a protagonist (particularly a female protagonist) over the age of twenty-eight, even if said protagonist has achieved things that by all rights should have taken decades. I’d say “I hope I’m kicking that much ass ten years from now” but that kind of misses the point – this isn’t the middle ages, and forty isn’t particularly old any more. It’s just that we’ve somehow, as a culture, internalised the chronological sensibilities of teenagers.

The supporting cast are all lively and colourful, although often drawn in broad strokes. I’m not particularly familiar with small-town America, so I can’t speak for authenticity, but I got something of a sense of a town populated almost entirely by strippers, wastrels and petty tyrants. Although to be fair, since a major line of investigation takes place at a topless bar, it’s only natural that strippers and people who frequent them would be a little over-represented in the cast list.

There were times when I felt the book could have used a more rigorous going-over from its editor. The writing was mostly fine, with occasional sentences that took a couple of readings to parse correctly. For example, I tripped up consistently on “With my wicked ways, she was sure I’d end up solitaire, breast stroking around in circles at the bottom of the Well of Loneliness.” This caused problems for me mostly because “breast stroking” on its own doesn’t immediately read to me as a verb meaning “doing the breaststroke” (especially not in the middle of a paragraph specifically about people’s attitude to the heroine’s sexual orientation), particularly when it falls over a page break. It’s a classic garden path sentence, like “the government plans to raise taxes were defeated”.

Similarly, while I thought the supporting cast were mostly well-realised, there were times when I thought the text belaboured its characterisation a little. We are first introduced to Kim’s mother Evelyn with the line “My mother wasn’t actually Scarlett O’Hara, but this wasn’t news I wanted to break to her.” This is great: it’s sharp, snappy, and immediately tells you everything you need to know about Evelyn. The problem is that it doesn’t stop there, there’s about a paragraph more detail about exactly how much of an O’Hara-a-like Evelyn is, and pretty much every time we encounter her, there is an explicit reference to Scarlett O’Hara, or Vivien Leigh, or both. Perhaps it was churlish, but I almost felt as if I wasn’t being trusted to remember a simple piece of information between chapters.

Overall Small Town Trouble is a likeable mystery romp with a no-nonsense heroine, a good helping of unresolved sexual tension, a slightly odd final reveal and an above average number of severed wangs. As ever I’m not the world’s biggest fan of star ratings, but I’d put it somewhere between a three and a four, depending on how much you like mysteries, how much you like specifically lighthearted mysteries in the amateur-sleuth-defeats-surprisingly-murderous-villain vein, and whether you think a detective who manages to misidentify the villain moments before the climax is a plus or a minus.

Buy Links:

Amazon US
Amazon UK

I would like to thank the author for providing me with the eARC of this title in exchange for my honest opinion.

Farewell Giveaway
I have a number of paperbacks, most of which are signed, to giveaway. Over the between now (11 Mar 2017) and 31 Mar 2017, every comment on the blog (this post and all other new posts), will be entered to win 1 of these paperbacks. There are also some misc swag items, so there will be a few packs of these to give away as well.

Thank you so much for your support over the last 4 years. Prism will be closing its doors on 1 April 2017. All content will remain available, but no new content will appear after 31 Mar 2017. As such all request forms have been turned off. Again Thank you,

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One thought on “Small Town Trouble by Jean Erhardt ~ Review by Alexis Hall

  1. Entertaining review, you kept me chuckling:-) Scooby Doo – I love it ;-D I was foolishly charmed by the blurb’s reference to Gatlinburg, a kitschy Smoky Mtns resort town my hubs & I have visited so often that we know our way around like natives Her restaurant was even called the Little Pigeon, the name of the river down there! I kind of love it when places I’m very familiar with turn up as book settings. But I don’t get the impression Gatlinburg is really part of the story, or I might be seriously tempted to buy the book just for that. Yes, easily amused, I know 😛 I do sometimes enjoy light mystery of this sort, though not lately. And just not sure on this book. Taking 12 chapters to get to the point about the murder in a murder mystery is, um, sort of problematic. Not to mention needing to have the villain basically throw himself in your face to figure out whodunnit . . .

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