To quote Lewis Carroll: "Calloo, callay, oh frabjous day!" No doubt Carroll, with his keen sense of the absurd, would find the publication of Tim Cockey's first novel positively frabjous indeed, an occasion for merriment and revelry.
Cockey is a kindred spirit to Janet Evanovich (Three to Get Deadly, Four to Score), an author with the rare gift of making riotously funny prose seem effortless, and to Elmore Leonard (Be Cool, Get Shorty), whose dialogue is casually and precisely evocative of the way "real people" speak. Heady company indeed for this new author, but The Hearse You Came in On deserves a special place in the screwball mystery pantheon: if you thought Evanovich was daring for creating a heroine who is a lingerie-salesperson-turned-bounty-hunter, you haven't met Hitchcock Sewell, the handsome undertaker who moonlights (reluctantly) as a sleuth.
Hitchcock is placidly enjoying life in Baltimore, "solemnly chaperoning the dead into their graves and pretty much otherwise minding my own business," when Carolyn James appears at the mortuary to inquire how much her own burial would cost. The next day, Carolyn reappears, but she isn't saying much now: suicide by asphyxiation has a way of eliminating small talk. The only problem is that Carolyn the Client is not the same woman as Carolyn the Cost-Conscious Consumer. When Hitch decides to pursue the shifting-identity issue, he meets Kate Zabriskie, a cop who wanted to protect Carolyn from a vicious boyfriend by faking her death; unfortunately, it seems Carolyn decided to play for real. Intent on proving that Carolyn's suicide was murder, Kate quickly embroils Hitch in a tangle of political blackmail and police corruption.
Bad enough that Hitch is caught in a murder investigation--but factor in his unwilling participation in a terrible amateur theater production, in which his costar is his "extremely gorgeous semi-nymphomaniac quasi-Buddhist and eternally charming ex-wife," and you have one cranky undertaker. Luckily for Hitch and for Cockey's readers, that crankiness is never enough to dim his razor-sharp powers of description and keen appreciation for his and others' quirks. Here he describes his former father-in-law, owner of the Screaming Oyster Saloon: "Frank is a tall crooked stick with an Adam's apple that rivals his nose, and a basset hound face that promises the end of life as we know it any minute now. Every mug he lands on the bar lands there with the heavy thud of finality. If you're in a good mood and you don't want to be, Frank's your man. He doesn't even have to speak, he'll simply open up that bleak vortex for you and down you go."
The Hearse You Came in On is a powerful debut; Cockey's next novel won't come a moment too soon for the readers who keep pausing to laugh out loud. --Kelly Flynn
--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
From Publishers Weekly
A laid-back tone and lively Baltimore milieu combine with a plot overloaded with murder, blackmail, police corruption and political coverups in this debut mystery. Wisecracking Hitchcock Sewell, proprietor of Sewell & Sons Family Funeral Home, is intrigued when Carolyn James tries to arrange her own funeral, especially when a different Carolyn James turns up at the mortuary, a suicide. Hitch discovers that his attractive visitor was Det. Kate Zabriskie, working on a special case for Baltimore Police Commissioner Alan Stuart. Someone is blackmailing Stuart, who's running for Maryland governor, with videos of his wealthy, promiscuous wife in bed with tennis pro Guy Fellows, who's just been murdered and was Carolyn's boyfriend. Meanwhile, Kate is trying to recover from the death of her husband, an undercover cop she accidentally killed in a stakeout. The ease with which Stuart manipulates Kate, taking advantage of her grief and guilt, stretches credibility; so does her slowness to recognize his motives. Kate and Hitch soon become romantic partners as they pursue a trail leading to illegal toxic waste-dumping and murder-for-hire. Appealing characters abound--in Hitch's amateur theater group, his hangout the Screaming Oyster Saloon and the Maine seaport where Kate and Hitch track a crooked retired cop. Baltimore's neighborhoods as well as its class and political structures are ably depicted, though the pleasant ambience and chatty tone, which often slow the tempo, are at odds with the dark underlying themes of wanton corruption and vicious emotional exploitation. Even so, with this novel Cockey and Hitch, mortician extraordinaire, make a welcome entrance to the genre. Agent, Victoria Sanders. U.K. rights to Piatkus. (Mar.)
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Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.