Sunday, April 1, 2018

Malice in Maggody, by Joan Hess

Before Stephanie Plum there was Arly Hanks, chief of police in the town of Maggody, Arkansas, population 755. Licking her wounds from a divorce and loss of her marital New York City penthouse, Hanks has returned to her roots, where her mother Ruby Bee owns the local diner and motel, and where everybody in town has a story so strange only Joan Hess can tell it in this reprint of her 1987 novel.

At 34, Hanks spends her days carving a duck from a block of wood and dealing with a police force of two, one of which is desperate to join the state police. When the town council and Mayor Jim Bob kidnap an EPA bureaucrat to stop a new law that will pollute the town’s creek, Hanks is the last to know, even when it turns out her mother is part of the operation. As Hanks digs deeper into the kidnapping, and an associated tragic murder, we meet some of the most interesting and nutty characters ever to step out of a novel, with nary a computer, tablet or cellphone in sight.

Sometimes a trip to Maggody, where like a Sue Grafton novel, the 21st Century is still years in the future, is necessary in order to understand that in our recent past, friendship and family, even laced with outrageous backwoods eccentricity, were more important than anything else. An importance Chief Hanks (and Joan Hess) is not afraid to acknowledge.

(In return for an honest review, I received an advance copy from the publisher via NetGalley.)

Mischief in Maggody, by Joan Hess

In her second Arly Hanks mystery, Joan Hess introduces us to the seamier underbelly of Maggody, Arkansas, population 755. After mountain woman/part-time hooker/bootlegger, Robin Buchanon disappears, her four older kids are taken in by the Mayor’s wife (known as “Mizzoner”) and her baby is taken in by Arly’s mother, Ruby Bee. Of course, since none of the children know how to read, or keep clean, or how to live in any dwelling built after 1900 in a place not in the middle of an unpopulated mountain, (Dogpatch from the L’il Abner comics is modern compared to their cabin), their antics cause Mizzoner to have a nervous breakdown while the men of Maggody worry that they may be exposed as one of kids’ “pappys.”

After Hanks finds Robin’s body alongside a booby-trapped marijuana patch, she sets out to find the murderers. Meanwhile, her not-all-there police department janitor, declares himself a “deputy,” steals the sheriff’s jeep and disappears into the mountains with his not-all-there girlfriend, claiming he will solve the mystery. Not to be outdone in the outrageous acts department, Ruby Bee manages to lose the baby; the new-in-town psychic, Madame Celeste, manages to create hysteria with her predictions; and a bunch of hippies, also new-in-town, generate their own brand of chaos by meditating in the nude.

Entering the world of Arly Hanks is always a treat, and it’s comforting to know there are at least fourteen more novels in the series. Thank you Joan Hess!

(In return for an honest review, I received an advance copy from the publisher via NetGalley.)