Friday, June 15, 2018

Secrets, Lies, & Crawfish Pies (A Romaine Wilder Mystery #1)

Author:  Abby Vandiver
Genre:  Mystery

Hardcover; Trade Paperback; Digital Book
ISBN #:  9781635113495; 9781635113464
Henery Press Publishing
266 Pages
(Prices to Come on HC/PB) $2.99 Amazon
June 12, 2018


Romaine Wilder, big-city medical examiner with a small-town past, has been downsized and evicted.  With few other options, she's forced to return to her hometown of Roble in East Texas, leaving behind the man she's dating and life she's worked hard to build.

Suzanne Babet Derbinay, Romaine's Auntie Zanne and proprietor of the Ball Funeral Home, has long since traded her French Creole upbringing for Big Texas attitude.  She's a member in a number of ladies' auxiliaries and clubs, including being in charge of the Tri-County Annual Crawfish Boil and Music Festival.

Hanging on to the magic of her Louisiana roots, she's cooked up a love potion or two -- if she could only get Romaine to drink it.  But her plans are derailed when the Ball Funeral Home, bursting at the seams with dead bodies, has a squatter stiff.

Dead guy is a problem.

Auntie Zanne can't abide by a murderer using her funeral home as the dumping grounds for their crimes, and Romaine doesn't want her newly elected cousin, Sheriff Pogue Folsom, to fail on his first murder case.  Together Romaine and Auntie Zanne set off to solve it.

With a dash of humor, a dollop of Southern charm, and a peek at current social issues in the mix, it's a fun romp around East Texas to solve a murder mystery of the cozy kind.


Romaine Wilder has lost her job in a Chicago hospital and forced to return home to Roble, Texas, to live with her Aunt Zanne (Babet) at the family funeral home.  She isn't happy but is convinced it's only temporary so is going to make it work.

The moment they return home they see a family friend, Josephine Gail, out on the lawn in the rain babbling about a dead body.  Well, it is a funeral home, of course - but the dead body doesn't belong there.  No one seems to know who it is or how he got there.  When Romaine does a quick check, she can't find any reason why he should be dead in the first place, but will know more after an autopsy.  When it's discovered how he was murdered and who he was, then her cousin Sheriff Pogue Folsum has his work cut out for him trying to find out who murdered the man.

Standing in his way is Zanne, who is trying to make his job harder and Romie's life miserable while she decides she's going to find a killer who had the nerve to leave an unwanted body in her funeral home...

First off, I wanted to like this book as I thought it had a good premise.  But there were so many questions I had to ask:  I don't understand how she's a medical examiner but couldn't find a job anywhere in Chicago?  That didn't make sense to me.  A good doctor can always find a job, and in Chicago, where there are so many deaths, (just read the news) we're supposed to believe that not even one medical facility would need a good examiner?

Also, she doesn't have any money that was mentioned so she couldn't find her own place to live, and doesn't own a vehicle.  Even if you take the El, you'd still need a car to get some places - yet she took the train back home instead of driving.  Why didn't she have a vehicle?  Why hadn't she saved enough money to stay in Chicago until she found a job?  Surely a doctor would be making a decent wage, government job or not.

Then, Pogue must know that Josephine Gail suffers from depression, so the first thing he does after Zanne leaves the room is accuse her of murdering the man and demanding she tell him how she did it.  And our spineless friend Romie just sits there and allows him to attack her like that.  He didn't ask to see the list of bodies delivered, nor did he even think to ask who brought the bodies but instead asked a woman in her seventies how she committed murder.  Seriously?  He's known this woman his whole life, and he believes her to be capable of murder?  This is a serious plot hole.

But the worst character is Zanne, and the reason I didn't give the book a higher rating.  I believe she's supposed to be feisty, but she just comes off as pompous and mean-spirited.  (When she said Romaine looked just like her, I cringed.  While it was supposed to be funny, who wants to be compared to an eighty-two-year-old woman and said they resembled her, especially if they're half her age).  Plus, she's an aunt, not a mother, so they might not resemble each other at all.  And sorry to say, Zanne, you won't have grandkids - she's your niece, even if you raised her; not your daughter.

Perhaps these things wouldn't bother me so much if she weren't so insane, and not in a good way.  She's certifiable.  She keeps telling Romaine she's staying in Roble knowing she's unhappy to be there; telling her she's going to run the funeral home knowing she doesn't want to; telling her she'll find her a husband and have kids - well, you get the idea.  This is not funny nor quirky.  I doubt any reader would want to be treated this way by any relative. A good aunt who's raised you will support you in thick and thin, allow you to live your own life, be there when you need to talk, and not try and run your life - just like a good mother.  Zanne is none of these things, and therefore unlikable.

All I could think about was Romaine needed to get out of there fast, especially after Zanne told her how making crawfish pies were more important than an autopsy (basically 'what I want is more important than what you want); and demanded she be allowed to sit in on said autopsy.  Um, no.  So what if she has to ready the body for burial?  What does that have to do with an autopsy; and in her business, she should already be aware she can't sit in on them.  I doubt if there's a pathologist in the country who allows funeral directors to watch them work.  Unfortunately, all this did was give the impression that Zanne was a pushy woman who demanded the world revolve around her and what she wanted.  (Since when does a crawfish festival take precedence over a murder victim?

Also unfortunately, Romaine is everything I dislike in a woman - a spineless person who bends to the will of others instead of standing up for herself.  That she was waiting for her friends to find her a job instead of trying to find another one herself tells you all you need to know.  Even the crawfish had more backbone than she did.  I'm not saying she shouldn't be respectful of Zanne; but being respectful and allowing someone to push you around and tell you what you are going to do with your life are two different things.

I really struggled with this review because while I understand this is the first in the series and probably needs work, at least two things need to change before I will continue with it:  Romaine needs to develop a backbone and not allow herself to be pushed around by her crazy aunt (she did develop a small one but not enough); and Zanne needs to grow up, realize that Romaine isn't a little girl anymore, and stop trying to run everyone's life and let Romaine do whatever she wants regardless of what Zanne wants her to do; in other words, stop trying to run (and ruin) her life.

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