REVIEW: Dirty Rotten Tendrils

Note: This review originally appeared in The Season E-Zine's October mystery section.

Dirty Rotten Tendrils by Kate Collins
Obsidian Mass Market Paperback, October 2010

Rating: 8 (Very Good) (The Season's rating scale runs from 1 to 10.)

Florist and law-school-dropout Abby Knight loves her small town of New Chapel, Indiana; it's clean, it's quiet, and you can always find a place to park. But when hometown hero Cody Verse returns to town, fresh off his win on America's Next Hit Single and ready to do battle in court over the rights to the song that earned him his fame, the pace that Abby holds so dear is threatened. Soon, New Chapel is overrun with screaming fans and news vans. And then, just when it seems like the media circus couldn't get any bigger, Cody's hot-shot lawyer, Ken "the Lip" Lipinski, turns up dead. The police like the Lip's opposing counsel -- and Abby's old boss -- Dave Hammond for the crime, but Abby knows Dave isn't capable of murder. Can she and her "yummy-hot" boyfriend Marco catch the real killer and prove Dave's innocence in time to prevent him from doing time?

Dirty Rotten Tendrils is the eleventh in Kate Collins' Flower Shop Mystery series. I've only read one other of Collins' books (her debut, Mum's the Word), and I liked it well enough, but if Dirty Rotten Tendrils is any indication, Collins' storytelling ability has progressed along with her series. Collins paints vivid pictures with her prose, and her dialogue sparkles. Her characterization is strong, and major and minor characters alike are fully formed on the page. Abby's relationship with private-detective-by-day-bartender-by-night Marco is well-developed and realistic, and with Marco, Collins has devised the perfect vehicle to get Abby involved in her investigations.

Collins' book unfortunately lacks some of the intensity I look for in a mystery; yes, the D.A. is hell-bent on charging Dave with the Lip's murder, but at no point do you ever really doubt that Abby and Marco will exonerate him, and no one else is ever in any danger of being killed. That's a minor complaint, though, and the mystery in Dirty Rotten Tendrils is really quite clever -- complex, but not too, and it kept me guessing until the very end.

Also, while I appreciate that Collins take the time to flesh out her B-story, and I love that she ends Dirty Rotten Tendrils with a B-story-related sucker-punch of a cliffhanger, the book feels a bit long at 315 pages. I think she could have dropped a couple of the less integral events from her tale -- her assistant Lottie's makeover at the hands of her ditzy fashionista cousin Jillian, for example -- and it would have made for a tighter book. That being said, however, Dirty Rotten Tendrils has great narrative drive, and the book barrels right along despite its length.

All in all, Dirty Rotten Tendrils is a great read. Kate Collins successfully puts a young, hip spin on the traditional small-town mystery (her style is very evocative of Madeline Alt), and I fully intend to run right out and mine her back catalog while I await Abby's next adventure.