Sunday, October 01, 2006

Flamethrower, by Maggie Estep

(pb; 2006)

From the back cover:

“In the newest Ruby Murphy mystery, New York's inadvertent sleuth discovers more about her shrink than she could have ever imagined as the doctor turns the tables, enlisting her help in the hunt for a one-legged man who's been kidnapped and hidden in the Rockaways. Life gets stranger when Ruby is inexplicably fired from her job at the Coney Island Museum, her friend Violet's best racehorse is suddenly put up for sale, and a blue Honda begins shadowing Ruby's every move as she journeys into the wilds of Pennsylvania in search of the woman she always thought had all the answers.

“Between her apartment that is spitting distance from the Cyclone roller-coaster, the barn deep in no-man's land where she stables her horse, and the racetrack that is consuming her boyfriend, Ruby already knows her share of eccentric New York misfits. But in Flamethrower she may have finally met her match.”


Ruby, traumatized by the murder of her ex, Attila Johnson, eighteen months prior (in Gargantuan), discovers a severed human foot jutting out of her psychiatrist's fish tank. Turns out, the foot belongs to the husband of Ruby's psychiatrist (Dr. Jody Ray), who tells Ruby that her moody husband is probably pulling another kidnapping scam to get money out of her.

More than that is going on, however, forcing Ruby into yet another mystery (which reads less like a mystery than an sassy, quirky episode of Ruby's life). Estep has abandoned the first-person, alternating-characters narrative: this time out, it's all Ruby, in the first person. Estep has also streamlined the narrative, giving less time to character descriptions (which are often delectable doozies), and upping the action ante, without sacrificing the light, amiable tone of the first two books.

The only nit I have with this smile-soliciting work is that Ruby's mid-book tiff with her current beau, Ed, feels forced – Ed, in the two previous books, was never this petty, so why now? It's not enough to make me not want to own Flamethrower, but it is incongruent with Ed's previous behavior.

That said, this is my favorite entry in the series (thus far). Worth checking out.

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