Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Suspects and Profits

In Let There Be Suspects, book 2 in the Ministry Is Murder series by Emilie Richards, Aggie Sloan-Wilcox has to deal with yet another murder. This time in her very own house. At Christmas. With a house ful of guests right there. Aggie's free spirited mother had invited herself and Aggie's two sisters to Aggie's house for the holidays. Trouble is, she forgot to mention that to Aggie, so not only does Aggie have to prepare for the Christmas open house for her husband's congregation, she also has to deal with keeping the peace in her newly extended family. To make matters worse, Junie springs a surprise guest on Aggie and her two sisters: Ginger, their former foster sister. This is not a happy family reunion. Old, unresolved resentments rear their ugly head and Aggie's sister Sid and Ginger get into a fight at the Christmas party. When Ginger later turns up dead in the parsonage dining room Sid is the prime suspect. Aggie, of course, feels compelled to prove her sister's innocence and find the real killer.

There's a lot of humor, warmth and wisdom in this book. I was a little surprised, however, that there weren't more family flare-ups with a house full of in-laws, but the characters' personalities were basically realistic, allowing room for a little fun and spoofing, of course. I love the way Richards deals with Teddy's six-year-old theological misgivings. In any other family, that child would be in for some serious therapy down the line, but Aggie, Ed, and Junie work together to help Teddy reach conclusions appropriate for her age.

Beware False Profits has Aggie's Mom taking up permanent residence in Emerald Springs. At the end of the last book, Junie had decided to buy the Victorian that Aggie and her friend Lucy are remodeling. So now they have to try to speed the process upu and remodel the house so Aggie's mom can move in and open a quilt shop. I'm glad Junie is in Emerald Springs. She's such a free spirit that you just know there's plenty of room for tension to develop between Aggie and the Tri-C Women's Society. However, Junie has such an outgoing personality, that she wins everybody over.

I had just a little trouble getting to the real story in this book. I loved the beginning! It was hysterical, but confusing insofar as I could not easily determine early on how the disappearance of a parishioner who had a secret life performing as a female impersonator related to the central murder. But Richards wove that story in beautifully and it was worth hanging in until things became clearer.

The book started out with Aggie and Ed taking a much-needed vacation from family in New York. But they are not going to be allowed to really relax, now are they? Ed gets a frantic call from a church member whose husband had supposedly been at a business meeting in New York and was several days overdue back home. Joe Wagner, faithful church member and director of Helping Hands food bank, is such a stalwart, responsible man, that Ed and Aggie agree to give up a little of their vacation time to try to find out what happened to him. The trail leads to the Pussycat Club and the revelation that Joe had not been attending a conference every month for the past several years as his wife and everybody else in Emerald Springs thought, but had actually been performing as a female impersonator! How in the world are Aggie and Ed going to break the news to Joe's wife?

Back in Emerald Springs, Hazel Kefauver, the wife of Emerald Springs' mayor and Helping Hands board member from hell, falls dead during the annual fundraiser. The missing Joe becomes an absentee suspect since he had such an adversarial relationship with Hazel. Hazel's husband, a notorious womanizer, is also a suspect and he begs Aggie to help prove him innocent. So now Aggie has two mysteries to solve. Eventually the two stories merge beautifully and we find out how Joe wound up belting out Cher's old standards at the Pussycat Club as well as learning who murdered Hazel. Very enjoyable. I may have to read this one again.

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