on November 17, 2005
Jane Jeffry is one of my favorite mystery series characters; I return to her "world" when I need a reading treat I know I can count on. As many reviewers have noted about this series, the novels feel like visiting a couple friends in their homes. Opening a Jane & Shelley book and beginning to read is as easy and welcoming as opening a kitchen door from a neighbor's back porch and walking right in without needing to knock. You know these two friends will always have at least one shenanigan in contemplation or neighborhood issue to bat around over coffee and snacks or lunch, dinner, whatever.
In SILENCE OF THE HAMS, neighborhood political economics are brewing from the base of a few haughty residents attempting to control the direction of life-and-livelihood of everyone in the area, and the plot pacing is especially natural and seamless as Jane and Shelley's involvement (along with the reader's) in the brew percolates and is intensified by a quickly dispatched murder of the most appropriate character to kill.
As usual, I enjoyed the easy way Jane relates with her kids, friends, and significant other. Loved the entertaining sensitivity in which Jane & Shelley went about getting a new black pickup truck for Jane's son, Mike, and the way he responded to the gift.
The plot in this one has a few unexpected twists midstream, reversing direction, in a sense, then beginning again at an unexpected point. With Jill's seamless scene maneuvering, the twists and abrupt new deals flow like, "Oh. Didn't expect that. Interesting."
There's more deductive-reasoning-detecting dancing through this plot than previous ones; a lot of brain wracking for Jane, Shelley, & Mel stretches through easy-going, daily routine machinations. It feels almost as if this solving crimes deal has now become old hat, yet it's no less entertaining as a perk-along read. The surge in detecting in this offering intrigued me, especially as it was brought to a peak of fun with Jane & Shelly slithering into a delightfully silly tangent of suspects and motives, using formula letters (X, Y, Z, Q, P, S, K). You have to have been there (which you have the option to be, of course, by reading this one). At the culmination of the Gordian Knot of Alphabet bits, Shelly concludes:
>> "I like it, Jane. Mel, we've solved it. You can probably still make your arrest this evening if you hurry." <<
You can probably guess Mel's response, but you might want to read his exact words in reply to this Alphabet/Algebraic Formula discussion after Shelly capped it with the above statements.
I have my own guess guess for what may have brought on this major increase of detecting discussions in this particular novel in the Jeffry series. But, I'm not saying; wouldn't want to spoil your brain racking fun.
I enjoyed this surge of "who done it" conversations in HAM, driven by the intriguingly increased complexity of the mystery machinations; and I enjoyed as well the other novels I've read and reviewed in this series which focused different entertainment draws of a good work-of-fiction (see my Listmania). Jeffry novels have just the right amount of variety of style and venue, along with just the right amount of sameness to keep a (thankfully) long series from getting stale and to continue inviting readers into the story with the comforting feeling of familiarity.
Deftly dealt with, worthy ongoing themes in this novel include community politics around retaining property values, opening a new gourmet deli in Jane & Shelley's neighborhood, blackmailers running rotten personal agendas by using their professional standing to gather dirt from unsuspecting clients, celebrating school ceremonies from hell or from heaven (with Jane's "right-on" guidance on which slants were silly and which were angelic). As usual, Jane & Shelley's opinions hold the prizes for common sense sanity Vs overboard or inappropriate, controlling mania which is out-of-touch with the reality in which Jane & Shelley live with relish and easy-rambling-routine (which is uncannily just like the one many of us work to live in with a slip of sanity).
You won't want to miss HAM if you're raising teens into adulthood in this age of political insanity with gory causes galore (giving unearned glory to the agendas' pushers in the media, school systems, literally permeating every cultural outlet for opinions founded in innumerable pseudo sciences gone amuck). The scenes are so simply right on, in which Jane deals with Katie's toes slipping into the slimy water of band wagon mania, "Don't you CARE about the environment, the X's, Y's, Z's, Q's, P's, S's, K's (in this case the algebraic letters are referring not to suspects, but to various political agendas (causes), all of which contradict the interests of the others.
What ever happened to watching (only) your P's & Q's? Have they been lost in the murky waters of Quantum Physics, where observing a tiny particle of energy makes it dance to your music or become "beauty in the eye of the beholder"? The P's might even "spit in your eye" if you don't "watch out."
Pseudo science continues to slice-and-dice Common Sense in a never ending battle of bumbling idiots using sentimentalism to divert attention from their feathering-of-their-own-nests-and-manias. Take heart, though, Jane & Shelley continually resurrect that beat-and-battered Common Sense Thing, which most humans carry dormant in their DNA. The battle of extracting it from the soul and attempting to execute it begins with the second breath.
Returning to the REAL issues in HAM, here are a few fun questions to answer as you read:
Was the bad guy (the one who was squished under the ham rack on the new deli's opening day) killed before he was killed, or did he die "innocently" of natural causes, THEN get murdered? And what about the second murder, or was it the first, last, and only murder (at least for that week in the Jeffry/Nowack neighborhood)?
In some ways this plot, even as entertainingly convoluted, back-stepping, and back-stabbing as it was, read like a fun & fancy, well-choreographed line dance with each stepper in sensual-rhythmic-synch.
Appreciating An Author-in-stride,
Linda G. Shelnutt