Comedy-crime is a tough nut to crack. Too frothy and it’s nothing but a gaggle of giggles with no grit to grab a hold of. It’s gotta have some heart. It also need a proper plot, not simply a sequence of entertaining set pieces. There must be a mystery; maybe a murder, a puzzle to resolve.
And to give everything impetus and to keep us caring about the central character, there has to be an imminent threat of something awful. If all that lot is in place, then all the author has to do is seamlessly switch from laugh-a-minute to genuine peril in the snap of a startled synapse. The audience has to be torn between head-on hilarity and wide-eyed horror.
Like I said, a tough nut.
Meet Kate McCall, protagonist of the McCall & Company mystery series. She’s smart and sassy, yet far from superhuman. She never intended to be a private eye and without her eccentric crew of irregulars she would certainly struggle to survive – never mind solve the series of mysteries she’s investigating. Kate’s on the trail of her father’s killer and is also investigating embezzlement at a sports bar (while falling for the charms of its charismatic owner). Oh, and someone is disposing of decadent divorce lawyers with extreme prejudice – which is technically a crime as they end up quite dead. Hence she has her hands full. And so do the readers with this full-on romp through theatreland and the backstreets of the big city.
Sometimes author Rich Leder throws so much at his audience that you simply have to stop to catch your breath and let you brain assimilate all the information. The opening chapters in particular are a torrenting tumble of strange situations, peculiar people and pithy observations. You don’t need to have read the previous McCall & Co books to enjoy this one, but you will have to concentrate initially while the regulars take their bows in variously weird and wonderful ways. Leder obviously relished creating his idiosyncratic supporting cast but he doesn’t idealise them, and many an intimate tic is skewered by his sharply-honed societal commentary.
Once you’re up to speed with who does what to whom in which dark corners, then you can sit back and enjoy the non-stop wild ride that is Emboozlement. A tight plot, colourful characters and dialogue to die for (not literally. Well. Maybe). If you have an interest in theatre and drama then you’ll find the sequences involving the off-off-off Broadway troupe especially entertaining.
If I have one big criticism then it’s about the cover art, which I think will actively repel many readers who’d enjoy both this book and the other McCall & Co mysteries. The image of a women reduced to no more than her cleavage almost shoved this straight into the recycle bin. I suspect many readers will pass it by for that reason alone. But it’s definitely recommended for fans of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
Emboozlement by Rich Leder is available as an ebook