REVIEW: Nickeled-and-Dimed to Death

Nickeled-and-Dimed to Death by Denise Swanson
Obsidian (272 pages)
March 5, 2013

Rating:  9/10

For fans of:  Jenn McKinlay, Diane Kelly

When Elise Whitmore shows up at Devereaux "Dev" Sinclair's five-and-dime store and offers her a fantastic price on some antique Easter-candy molds, Dev doesn't think too much of it; the woman is probably either cleaning out her attic or needs some extra spending money. But then Dev learns that Elise is going through a nasty divorce and has been sticking it to her husband by systematically unloading all of his family heirlooms, and she feels a twinge of concern; in buying the molds from Elise, did Dev take possession of stolen property?

That question falls to the back burner when Elise turns up dead, though – particularly since Dev's friend Boone is the one to discover the body and immediately becomes the police’s prime suspect. Dev knows Boone is innocent, but the chief remains unconvinced. Can Dev exonerate Boone and help the cops catch the real culprit, or is her friend doomed to do time for a crime he didn’t commit?

Nickeled-and-Dimed to Death is the second of Denise Swanson’s Devereaux’s Dime Store Mysteries, and it’s a fabulously entertaining read. The pace is quick, the prose is snappy, and the dialogue is sharp. The mystery is incredibly successful, too – elegant in both design and construction. Yes, the clues are smart, the suspects are well developed, and the solution is satisfying, but Swanson also manages to connect the book’s central whodunit to the series as a whole; the Big Reveal not only ties off the book’s loose ends, but casts a whole new light on Dev’s past – and possibly her future, as well.

I do have a minor complaint regarding the way Swanson chose to tell this particular tale. The majority of the book is recounted in the first person from Dev’s perspective. Dev has a very engaging and propulsive narrative style, and her chapters read very naturally. Unfortunately, however, for whatever reason, Swanson chooses to occasionally slip into the third person and tell snippets of the story from Dev’s high-school sweetheart Noah’s point of view. Not only are the transitions from first-person to third-person awkward and jarring, but Noah’s voice never quite rings true, and I actually found that I liked him a little less every time I was forced to spend a chapter in (adjacent to?) his head.

That said, the cast of Nickeled-and-Dimed to Death is flush with incredibly well drawn characters, each with his or her own unique personality, motivation, mannerisms, and background. Dev is as sweet, loyal, and stubborn as they come. Her good friend Poppy, bartender and antagonistic wild-child daughter of the local police chief, is both a supportive sidekick and fantastic comic relief. And Dev’s high-school sweetheart Noah proves a surprisingly likable addition to the group – and does a great job of throwing a wrench into the post-adolescent existence Dev’s been carving out for herself. The relationship between Dev and Noah is at once incredibly complicated and yet very simple, and does a great job of illustrating just how difficult it can be to put the past behind you in matters of romance – particularly when you live in a small town.