REVIEW: The Diva Digs Up the Dirt

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

The Diva Digs Up the Dirt by Krista Davis
Berkley Prime Crime (290 pages)
June 5, 2012

Rating:  5/5 (Chart Topper) (The Season's rating scale now runs from 1 to 5.)

For fans of:  Diane Mott Davidson

Domestic diva Sophie Winston knows that her boyfriend, Detective Wolf Fleishman, used to be married.  She also knows that Wolf's wife Anne disappeared without a trace four years ago, and that a lot of people – many of them fellow cops – believe Wolf was responsible for that disappearance.  But Wolf insists Anne left of her own accord, and Sophie believes him; Anne's body's never turned up, Wolf was never charged with any crime, and most importantly, Sophie knows that Wolf is incapable of murder, so she's never felt unsafe in his company, nor has she ever doubted his innocence.

But then one afternoon she slips into Wolf's backyard to surprise him by planting a rosebush and instead unearths Anne's purse, and everything changes.  Thanks to her discovery, Wolf is once more the center of a homicide investigation.  Sophie’s still relatively certain her boyfriend’s not a criminal – but why would any woman bury her own wallet in the ground before leaving town?  Sophie can't seek solace in her party-planning work, because all hell has broken loose on her current job and someone appears to be trying to poison her clients.  And then there's the small matter of the home improvement show her friend Natasha’s sicced on her quiet little refuge of a backyard...
The Diva Digs Up the Dirt is the sixth in Krista Davis' Domestic Diva Mysteries, and it's one heck of a fantastic read.  Davis’ latest fires on all cylinders; the plot is tight, the setup is smart, and the mystery is rich and multi-layered and really will keep you guessing until the very end.  The pacing is perfect and she sets just the right mood and tone in every scene, knowing exactly when to undercut heavy with humor and when it’s better just to let a serious moment stand.  The book has a strong sense of place, and her characters are so strongly developed and skillfully drawn they practically come to life on the page. 

Sophie is one of my absolute favorite traditional mystery heroines.  She’s smart, she’s kind, she’s funny, and she’s strong, and she has a down-to-earth quality about her that makes her incredibly relatable.  She has a fantastic narrative voice that sucks you in and forces you to become emotionally invested in the tale she’s telling.  The relationships she shares with her neighbors, friends, and even her clients all feel genuine and earned, and each adds something unique and worthwhile to the story.  In particular, her rivalry (and reluctant friendship) with the high-energy, high-maintenance Natasha adds the perfect amount of comic relief to an otherwise intense plot.  And the way Davis paints Sophie’s relationship with Wolf in this book is nothing short of brilliant.  She loves him and is determined to do everything in her power to save him, but the fact that she’s uncertain as to the truth surrounding his wife’s disappearance, coupled with the fact that he refuses to even discuss the matter with her, makes it exceedingly difficult for her to determine what’s a help and what’s a hindrance.  Regardless, her dogged determination to do what’s right in the face of her certainty that the outcome of the police investigation will ultimately have a serious impact on her future with Wolf adds layers of intensity, uncertainly, and melancholy you don’t often find in a traditional mystery.

The fact that the B-story involving her rich, crazy, back-stabbing, poison-happy clients is just as complex and wonderfully developed as the mystery surrounding Wolf and Anne is just icing on the cake.

I’ve long been a fan of Krista Davis’ Domestic Diva Mysteries, and The Diva Digs Up the Dirt is without a doubt the finest installment thus far.  Buy it, read it, love it.