Friday, March 14, 2014

Small Town Trouble by Jean Erhardt: Book Review

Meet Kim Claypoole, restaurateur, reluctant heroine and amateur sleuth with moxie galore. "I'd had a feeling all along that this wasn't going to be my day. But I hadn't been prepared for things to go this badly..."

In Small Town Trouble, the first in a series from mystery writer Jean Erhardt, we get acquainted with Kim Claypoole's irreverent and witty ways of dealing with the peculiar characters and events that she finds in her life.

Claypoole's adventure begins as she leaves her home in the Smoky Mountains to help save her kooky mother Evelyn from financial disaster. Setting off to assist Evelyn (i.e., "the other Scarlett O'Hara") with her newest personal crisis, Claypoole leaves in her wake her Gatlinburg doublewide, her restaurant, The Little Pigeon and her restaurant partner and sometimes best friend Mad Ted Weber as well as a budding secret love affair that's hotter than an Eskimo in July.

Claypoole's savior complex leads to more trouble when she bumps into an old flame in her hometown who asks for her help clearing her hapless brother of murder charges. In true Claypoole fashion, she gets more than she bargained for when she gets dragged into a complicated quest to find the true killer complete with topless tavern dancers, small town cops, a stream of backwater characters-even a meeting with the Grim Reaper. Can Claypoole muddle her way through the murky depths of this bizarre murder mystery before it's too late?

With biting humor and wit, Small Town Trouble will leave you guessing what's around the next corner in the quirky life of Kim Claypoole.

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I wholly enjoyed this book.  I loved the main character’s quirky outlook and inner dialogues.  This is the first book I have read where the protagonist is lesbian.  Her sexuality does not over-ride the story in any way, rather I felt the story, and the situations Kim found herself caught up in, benefitted from her insights and her innate personality. 
The mystery kept me reading and guessing. Kim methodically chased the clues while simultaneously juggling the needs and concerns of the people in her life dearest to her.  This book contains no explicit sexual scenes, but the humanness and spontaneity of feeling within the book felt real and believable to me.  Kim and the other supporting characters are multi-faceted individuals with believable concerns and motives.  I enjoyed the interactions of the various players and feel that I came away at the end with a better understanding of what makes people so infinitely diverse and fascinating.  This is an entertaining mystery that I also found to be enlightening in a surprisingly tasteful way.  The book was not really what I expected from reading the blurb, as I expected a heterosexual heroine, but I am happy to report, it gave me a reading experience that actually exceeded my expectations.  I am looking forward to Kim Claypoole’s next mystery adventure. 
This book was provided to me in exchange for my honest review. 
Reviewed by Laurie-J

"Gimme," I said, snatching the binocs from Amy. After all, I was the professional. Charlene was out the front door all right, headed like a high wind for a compact white car. She looked agitated. I couldn't tell which form of agitation it was. Maybe she was twerked off at somebody, maybe she looked scared. Maybe she was just excited about getting off work. 
                Charlene wore short cutoff jeans, an ultra-tight T-shirt and sneakers. Her white-blond hair was pulled into a huge, floppy bun.
                "What's she doing now?" Amy wanted to know.
                "Looks like she's punching out for the night."
                In the weird blue light of Jimmy's Place, I watched Charlene unlock her car door. She jumped in and promptly fired up a cigarette, then started the engine. Before I could say booballabies, Charlene sped out of the lot.
                I cranked up the Toyota. "Let's roll."
                The rainstorm that had been threatening all evening picked an inopportune time to let go. I flicked the Toyota's wipers into high gear as the huge splotches came harder and faster, all the while trying to keep Charlene's car in my view finder. I laid well off her tail, a little too well, actually, and we lost sight of her completely for a few minutes, caught back up, then I lost her again. I was definitely rusty in the tailing department.
                I was also a bit distracted by a persistent pair of headlights in my rearview, but decided that I was just suffering from a slight case of the paranoids.
                "Damn," Amy said, binoculars once again pressed into action. "Can't this car go any faster?"
                Amy was right. Faster was the way to go. I put my foot to the pedal, passed a pickup truck which had turned onto the highway, and closed the gap. I was counting on the rain to make it tough on Charlene to notice us if she was inclined to check her rearview. The pavement was slick in spots from oil and from being dry too long, and the dang Toyota was having trouble holding the curves. Maybe I'd trade it in next time for whatever Charlene was driving. At least get myself a new set of tires.
                "Aha," Amy said, as Charlene's car came back into view.
                I clocked her. Charlene was doing a cool eighty on the straightaway.
                "Hold up," Amy said. "I think she's turning off."
                Charlene made a hard right, headed out route 132. I let her make the turn, then followed her lead. The rain wasn't letting up and, at this point, neither was I.
                We went on like this for a couple miles, us on her tail and the rain beating the car like a platoon of angry little drummer boys. Then, without warning, Charlene jammed on her brakes and swerved off to the side of the road. I made a quick decision and, just short of her, cut a sharp right, and we bumped hard down an old rutted lane. I rolled just far enough down the road to get out of sight, then I cut the lights, spun us around and pulled off on the shoulder. I killed the engine and hoped we hadn't attracted attention.
                We were close enough to hear Charlene's car humming.
                "Now what?" Amy said.
                I shrugged. "I don't know yet." I tried the binoculars again, but they weren't much help. The trees were thick and clumped in all the wrong places. "What is she up to?"
                "Maybe she lost a contact lens.”
                "Maybe not." A car coming up the highway from the opposite direction slowed and pulled in behind Charlene. There was the sound of a car door opening and slamming. Charlene's lights and engine died. Then I heard a man's deep voice. Hadn't I heard that voice before? Charlene and the man spoke briefly, then it sounded like Charlene was getting into his car. More door slamming.
                "Whoa," Amy said, "a low-rent rendezvous?"               
                After a moment, his car pulled out of the turnoff, the headlights sweeping the trees, and headed quickly back up the highway. It looked like Amy and I were back in the tailing business. 
                The car was a dark, late-model sedan, nothing fancy, and Charlene was definitely on the passenger side.
                The rain had let up a hair and Amy was working the binoculars again. "I think they might be arguing," Amy said. "She's waving her hands around."
                "You get a look at the guy?"
                "Just the back of his head. He doesn't appear to be wearing a hat, if that's helpful."
                Amy was getting good at this. "Can you read the plate?" Maybe I'd get lucky later and find someone to run it.
                Amy refocused. "Nope. Can't quite make it out. Get closer."
                I knew it was risky, but I was working for Amy now. I gave the Toyota more gas and moved in on them.
                "Oh, for chrissake," Amy said, "I think they're kissing."
                "Well, are they arguing or kissing?" I had seldom done these simultaneously with much success and figured no one else did either.
                "Get closer."              
                I was practically driving up his tailpipe now. I took a good look, mentally noted the plate and backed off a bit. Amy was right the second time. They were making out. Charlene had her arms around the guy's neck and, in between road checks, she'd suck on his face.
                "Well, this is interesting," Amy said.

I was raised in the small rural town of Amelia, Ohio, about twenty five miles out of Cincinnati. My younger brother and sister and I had a pony, a horse, many great dogs and a couple of motorcycles. We raised a lot of hell. My father served in The Big One at 17 and, after riding a motorcycle around Europe, became a lawyer and later a judge. My mother worked as a homemaker and nurse, a skill she had to use a lot with all of the injuries my siblings and I subjected ourselves and one another to.

I wrote my first mystery story when I was in fourth grade. It was about a kid a lot like me who heard strange noises coming from the attic and became convinced that the attic was haunted. Eventually, the mystery was solved when she investigated and found a squirrel eating nuts in a dark corner. It wasn't a terribly exciting conclusion, but my teacher gave me an A anyway.

As a teenager I worked at a lot of different jobs. I worked at a gift shop in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, which is a frequent locale in my books. I was a swimming instructor and a lifeguard where my primary goal was to never get wet. I did a stint in a stuffed animal gift shop at the Kings Island amusement park where I actually sort of met the Partridge Family when they shot an episode there. After graduating from high school, I went on to attend Maryville College in Maryville, Tennessee, a stone's throw from the Great Smoky Mountains. There was some more hell raising at college and I made some very good friends and occasionally we have our own private reunions.

In high school and college I played basketball and I graduated from Maryville College with a degree in Phys Ed. I went on to teach at Amelia Junior High, the same junior high that I had attended. There was something a little weird about passing by my old school locker every day when I walked down the hall as a teacher. Plus, some of the teachers I'd had back when I was in junior high were still working when I started to teach. Some of them had been none too fond of me as a student and I don't think they were much fonder of me as a teacher! I coached the girls' basketball and volleyball teams which was the best part of my job.

In my late 20's I moved to the West Coast to get a broader perspective on life or something like that. I ended up working in retail security, or loss prevention, as it is now known, at an upscale Northwest retailer. I kept getting promoted and with each promotion, the job became less and less fun. It was a lot more fun catching shoplifters than sitting in endless meetings and crunching budgets. After ten years of that, I quit to try my hand at some serious writing. I wrote two books of fiction (not mysteries), Benny's World and Kippo's World, as well as a book of not-especially-reverent poetry called A Girl's Guide to God and numerous short stories, articles and poems which have appeared in The Sonora Review, The Quarterly, Word of Mouth, Blue Stocking and 8-Track Mind.After that, it was time to go back to work. I got my private investigator's license and hung out my shingle. At first, I took a lot of the cheaters cases. It seemed to me that if a guy thought his woman was cheating, he was usually wrong. On the other hand, if a woman thought her guy was cheating, she was almost always right. Eventually, I moved on to take mostly criminal defense investigation work which often involved trying to figure out what the client did and didn't do and then minimize the damage of what they usually did do.

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