REVIEW: Skating Over the Line

Skating Over the Line by Joelle Charbonneau
Minotaur Books, September 2011

Rating: 8

It’s a dream come true for Rebecca Robbins: someone finally wants to buy the Toe Stop roller rink. She should be overjoyed at the prospect of selling the business she inherited from her mother; after all, it’s the only thing keeping her in the tiny berg of Indian Falls, Illinois – especially now that her no-account flim-flam artist of a father has returned to town. So why is she so hesitant to start packing her bags?

Before she can dwell too long on that question, though, another mystery drops into her lap. It seems someone in Indian Falls has developed a penchant for stealing old cars – and then setting them on fire. Though her grandfather and the gang down at the Senior Center want Rebecca to use her sleuthing skills to catch the criminal, the local sheriff’s department is none too keen on the idea of her nosing around yet another of their investigations. But then some mysterious strangers start lurking around the rink and threatening the lives of her friends and family, and Rebecca comes to the realization that there's no way she can sit this one out.

Skating Over the Line is the second installment in Joelle Charbonneau’s Rebecca Robbins Mystery series. Given that the book’s cast includes an elderly Elvis impersonator and a hat-wearing camel, you might think that Charbonneau’s latest is all slapstick and no substance. You’d be wrong. Yes, Skating Over the Line is a comedy with more laugh lines than you can shake a jar of wrinkle cream at, but it also has plenty of heart.

Rebecca is a sassy, determined heroine for whom readers will want to root. Not only is she an intrepid amateur sleuth and a doting granddaughter, but as we learn with the introduction of her father, she’s also a girl with some serious abandonment issues. The scenes Rebecca shares with her father have surprising emotional resonance and shed a nice light on the choices she’s made in life (romantic and otherwise), giving her character a depth the likes of which you don’t often find in a cozy. Though Charbonneau’s no slouch at penning punch lines, I think her true talent may lie in writing sucker punches, and I, for one, hope we see more of this from her in books to come.

Rebecca’s somewhat stunted romance with the handsome-yet-patronizing Lionel Franklin is entertaining enough, but the most intriguing relationship here is the one between Charbonneau’s leading lady and cantankerous sheriff’s deputy Sean Holmes. Holmes’ interactions with Rebecca are suffused with the sort of smoldering chemistry that can only come from a good love-hate relationship, and I sincerely hope to see the pair thrown together more often in the future.

The rest of the cast is entertaining as well, comprised almost entirely of the sort of larger-than-life characters you’d find in a Maddy Hunter novel. Randy septuagenarians, spandex-clad roller-skating instructors, and sexually frustrated former strippers, the little town of Indian Falls has more color than your average double rainbow.

I confess I found the book’s mystery to be a tad predictable (I had the killer pegged from early on), but the pace is quick and the plot is fun, making this flaw easy to forgive. Looking for a light, fun small-town cozy to scratch that Joanne Fluke itch? Search no further than Skating Over the Line by Joelle Charbonneau.