I enjoy the Bennie Rosato books, even when Bennie herself isn't the center. Mary DiNunzio, new partner in the firm, is hired by Allegra Gardner, the 13-year old sister of a murdered girl, to prove the innocence of the man convicted of killing her. The girls' parents object, vehemently; and even Judy, Mary's best friend and usual partner in crime solving, thinks that Allegra has a screw loose and that Mary is too emotionally involved. Meanwhile, Mary gets engaged to Anthony, and that doesn't run too smoothly either.
Pretty much every character in this book has a messy life, from Macy Freely, the very pregnant police detective sent to Collier, Montana, to investigate the murder of Leanne Adams; to Jared, the two-timing paramedic with a compulsion to take care of people; to Hayley, one of Jared's lovers and the wife of an abusive truck driver; to 18-year old Grace, the heart-transplant survivor who watches the mother who abandoned her murdered. And the minor characters have equally complicated lives. I liked the book, but found it a little grim and maybe a bit overwritten.
I like books to have a point, and I'm not sure that this one does. Eva's father has two families, and when his wife dies, Eva's mother tries to take advantage of her death to gain some legitimacy for herself and Eva. Failing that, she abandons Eva on her father's doorstep. Eva and her beautiful stepsister Iris stick it out more or less companionably with their father until his thievery precipitates their departure for Hollywood. Despite some early success, Iris is blackballed, and the pair, with the prodigal father and a fairy godfather make-up artist, head back east where a new sort of family is crafted, and recrafted, and recrafted. The writing is good, and the meandering story is engaging.
Party-girl Janie Jenkins goes to prison for murdering her socialite mother, but is released ten years later on a technicality. Her first move is to find out if she actually did the deed by following the clues to her mother's early life The characters are intriguing, particularly dearly departed Mama, the language and dialogue sharp, and the humor wicked.
Chesterton was a contemporary of Arthur Conan Doyle, and Father Brown and Sherlock Holmes use similar methods, though their characters couldn't be more different. Father Brown is a Roman Catholic priest with keen observational skills and a deep understanding of human motivation. In these stories, the first of the 51 written by Chesterton, Brown is found pitting his wits against Hercule Flambeau, an eventually redeemed thief (and murderer), and, Valentin, a famous detective (and murderer).
Venetia and her brothers spent their childhood making up stories about their rarely seen neighbor, the Wicked Baron, but when they meet him in person, he turns out to have a sharp mind and good heart. Family secrets, an abrasive in-law, tiresome suitors, and quarrelsome and bible-quoting retainers add humor and spice to the story. The audio abridgement was a travesty.
The story is solid, both suspenseful and humorous, but the two best buddies, Abe and Dewey, seem like anachronisms in action and speech. Their 12-year old selves might be more at home in the 1930s or 1940s than the 21st century. Abe's mother, Leah Teal, is a widow and police detective in Alvin, Alabama, and the only member of the Alvin police force willing to take the frightened calls of Sylvie Carson at all seriously. When the preacher who accidentally shot Sylvie's baby brother to death is released from prison, Sylvie's fears become more justified.