Highlights Minnesota Mayhem (And Mirth)

Review by Julia Buckley

May Day doesn’t exactly make me want to head to Battle Lake, Minnesota—but then again, it might be fun to go there with Jess Lourey and listen to all the humorous observations she has to make. I’m assuming, of course, that Jess would be just as plucky as her heroine, Mira James, who narrates this fun mystery. Mira is young, sassy, intelligent, on her way to a Master’s in English. She is also directionless, and as the novel begins, she has taken a job as a house sitter in tiny Battle Lake. She also takes two paying jobs (sort of) at the town newspaper and the town library, and it is at the latter that she discovers the obligatory dead body.

The dead body in question belongs to Mira’s brand new lover, Jeff Wilson, a man about whom she doesn’t know much except that he seemed like the guy she’d been hoping to meet all her life. Naturally, this gives Mira the motivation to look into his death, which she begins to do in a surprisingly methodical way. It involves talking to all sorts of eccentric locals, including the mayor, Kennie Rogers, a woman who just happens to have been in the same Battle Lake High School graduating class as many of the suspects in this tale—the class of ’82. Wilson also graduated that year, and before he mysteriously left town, he was a star football player dating young Kennie, who was the most popular cheerleader at the school. Also among the suspects are Jeff’s former football coach, who is now coincidentally Mira’s boss at the library; the Battle Lake police chief, Gary Wohnt (but he will with Kennie, the rumor mongers say), who used to play football with the late Jeff; and a variety of other eccentric locals who sometimes rub Mira the wrong way.

As the novel progresses, Mira learns more and more things she really doesn’t want to know, and she has to take occasional breaks in her friend’s trailer, bonding with her cat and dog and doing some gardening to clear her head. Mira has a deeper problem than just a murderer at large: she is trying to live down the phantom of her late father, and the reputation she received by proxy as the daughter of “Manslaughter Mark.” She doesn’t like to think too much about her alcoholic father and the pain he brought to her life, both in his living and his dying, but she realizes that sooner or later she’ll have to face some realities. Battle Lake holds secrets, and Mira is determined to find them; at the same time she will learn something about herself and what she wants from her future.

Jess Lourey writes with a direct, intelligent humor that keeps the reader turning pages, if only to hear the next witty thing Mira will say. But the mystery itself has a satisfyingly creepy resolution which creates a nice lead-in to the next Murder-by-the-Month mystery: June Bug. I’ll be buying a copy.


Julia Buckley is a mystery writer who lives in the Chicago area. Her first mystery, The Dark Backward, was released in June of 2006; her next book, Madeline Mann (the first of the Madeline Mann mysteries) will come out in the summer of 2007. Julia is a member of Sisters in Crime, MWA, and RWA. She keeps a writer’s blog on which she interviews fellow mystery writers; her website is She has a husband and two children who put up with her hogging of the computer, but she doesn’t know how long that will last.

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