A “Florida Writers” Review by Phil Jason
Easter Hair Hunt, by Nancy J. Cohen. Orange Grove Press. 304 pages. Trade paperback $14.99.
Family, friends, and community – that’s what Ms. Cohen’s novels are all about, just as much as they are about crime and its detection. The blend is intoxicating. This latest addition to her Bad Hair Day mystery series is bound to please her large body of readers. Her main character, hair salon owner Marla Vail, once again finds herself running into a crime that she can’t help investigating. After all, when good friend “Blinky” Morris, last seen in an Easter bunny suit during an Easter egg hunt, is suddenly missing, and the bunny suit is found worn by a corpse, what would any self-respecting amateur sleuth do?
Though Ms. Cohen’s narrative takes us to many locations, by far the main setting is Tremayne Manor, a restored, privately owned historic mansion. Blinky, her friend and customer, had agreed to meet her there.
The owner of the mansion, Lacey Tremayne, had turned the estate into a business – a venue for special events like the Easter egg hunt for children with an accompanying fundraiser. The mansion is filled with gorgeous and tempting objets d’art collections. Marla suspects that the expense of purchasing and maintaining this showplace required that it become an income producer as well as a private residence.
There are signs that the balance sheet is on the negative side. In part, this is because the staff is rather large. However, there are signs that money is not being handled well. Could there be some crooked employees? Would any of these speculations shed light on Blinky’s disappearance or on the murder of the person found garbed in Blinky’s bunny suit?
Marla’s husband, police detective Dalton Vail, is soon on both cases: the murder and the disappearance. As ever, he is respective of Marla’s investigative skills while concerned about her safety, especially as she is now in the late stages of pregnancy with their first child.
Soon enough, there are signs of items missing as well as rare items having been replace my imitations. Marla finds her way of asking productive questions, even if they sometimes become accusatory. She thinks out loud with her friends, testing theories about means, motive, and opportunities of staff members and others who are frequently at the mansion. These include Lacey’s secretive son Daniel; Steve, the person who heads up security; the café manager; the beekeeper, those who attend to the estate’s copious plantings; Heather the head docent to oversees tours of the mansion; and many others.
That’s a lot of interviewing to do without getting people upset, but Marla holds her own when the conversation gets testy. Suspense? There is plenty of it, and the suspense thermometer heats up the investigations (both Marla’s and Dalton’s) uncover more and mores surprises.
By the way, there is a second murder.
Marla’s characteristically busy life is complicated by several other concerns beyond her pregnancy. Her mother Anita’s remarriage is pending, Marla will organize much of the Easter holiday feasting, and – don’t you know – she has a business to run. She also has become a kind of second mother to Dalton’s teenage daughter Brianna.
Marla is connected to so many people in so many ways. She is a nexus in the world of her South Florida suburban community, and through her Ms. Cohen brings that imaginary Broward County community fully to life.
In what has become a hallmark of cozy mystery writing, of which Nancy J. Cohen is the undisputed queen, readers will find a lot about preparing food, including an appendix of recipes.
Titles in Ms. Cohen’s “Bad Hair Day” series have been named Best Cozy Mystery by Suspense Magazine, won a Readers’ Favorite gold medal and a RONE Award, placed first in the Chanticleer International Book Awards and third in the Arizona Literary Awards. Nancy’s instructional guide, Writing the Cozy Mystery, was nominated for an Agatha Award, won first place in the Royal Palm Literary Awards and the TopShelf Magazine Book Awards and a gold medal in the President’s Book Awards. Active in the writing community, Nancy has served as president of Florida Romance Writers and Mystery Writers of America Florida Chapter. When not busy writing, she enjoys cooking, fine dining, cruising, and visiting Disney World.
Note: This review was accepted for publication by Florida Weekly, in my “Florida Writers'” column, but FW has stopped using many freelancers, including yours truly. “Florida Writers” reviews, like this one, will continue to appear on this blog from time to time.