Thursday, June 25, 2009

More Wanda Nell

In Bring Your Own Poison, Wanda Nell Culpepper, waitress and overworked, overstressed single mom, gets involved in yet another murder in Tullahoma. This time she is eyewitness to the death of police officer Travis Blakely at his own bachelor party attended by virtually every other police officer in the area. No one is truly surprised that Travis met a grisly end. He is a very unpleasant, misogynistic jackass who was suspected of having killed his first two wives, although no one could ever prove anything. But that history did not seem to stop one of the town's most beautiful young women from agreeing to marry the cop. Travis' younger brother Gerald becomes the prime suspect for two reasons. One, he had dated the bride and objected loudly to Travis' lewd comments about her at the party. Two, he was found holding an empty vial right after Travis keeled over.

This particular story was a bit complicated. There is a lot going on in Wanda Nell's life besides investigating a murder. She meets an old flame who has changed most unpleasantly, she has to confront homophobic attacks against her son and his partner that cause her pain and worry, one daughter is sick and the other pregnant again and unmarried, Jack propsed to her, and Jack's sister claims she is being stalked by a homicidal cop.

When state police Master Sergeant Bill Warren arrives at the Kountry Kitchen to investigate Officer Blakely's sudden death, Wanda Nell is surprised and pleased to recognize the shy boy she dated back in high school. But Bill is no longer the nice kid Wanda Nell used to know. He bullies Gerald from the get-go and Wanda Nell feels compelled to come to Gerald's aid. She calls Tuck, the lawyer who is also her son T.J.'s life partner. When he arrives at the Kountry Kitchen, Bill makes a vile homophobic comment and Wanda Nell decks him. Later Bill uses that incident, plus threats to her son, to try to intimidate Wanda Nell into changing her testimony to incriminate Gerald. Wanda Nell knows something is fishy with Bill's obsession, so she feels compelled to invetigate that part of the mystery as well.

To complicate matters, Wanda Nell's boyfriend Jack Pemberton pops the question and Wanda Nell surprises everybody, but mostly herself, by saying yes right away. Then she discovers that her daughter Miranda, who has a toddler whose daddy is unknown and long gone, is pregnant again. As if there's not enough things for Wanda Nell to be worried about, Bill Warren starts to threaten her family. Plus Jack's sister turns to Wanda Nell and Jack to help her stop the cop she claims is stalking her.

Wanda Nell Culpepper's life is never easy even in the best of circumstances. She's a widowed single mom who works two jobs as she struggles to make ends meet while raising two daughters and a grandson in a small town in Mississippi. Folks who live on the edge of financial disaster can relate to her constant problems and worries. But Wanda Nell always meets life headon, with courage and wit. I like Wanda Nell. She's somebody I'd want as a next door neighbor and friend. She has a good heart and a good head on her shoulders.

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