Fiction: “Dear Old Dead” by Jane Haddam

deardeadNormally, I’d feel a need to apologize to my readers (small population that you are) for not being current on my reading material. But because I have such a small viewership (which is totally fine, bee tee dubs, being famous isn’t exactly something I’m interested in being, and being famous on the Internet is a whole ‘nother slice of that pie that I don’t think I’m hungry for; though if anyone wants to pay me for this, hey, I’ll shut up and take your money) and, y’know, some semblance of a life (today is a day off! And I have another one tomorrow! What?), the book reviews have taken a backseat to other things, like seeing Guster in concert, almost meeting Guster after the concert, and sleeping.

So I’m not going to apologize, because this is my blog, and I’m doing it for free and for the spambots out there, and they’re not paying me either, so … suck it.

Anyway. The book I finished reading after Gilligan’s Wake was the next book in the Gregor Demarkian series, Dear Old Dead. Since it’s been a while since I’ve read one of this series, let me take a moment to remind y’all that the series is known as the Gregor Demarkian Holiday series, so that should lead you to believe that this book is about Father’s Day.

The only thing about Father’s Day in this book is that it takes place near Father’s Day.

The dead guy Gregor is called in to investigate is Charles … Something. Look, today’s laziness will know no bounds: the book is on the table, right there, but I’d have to really stretch to get it, and it’s like that scene in Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle where the buddies are halfway down the hall and Kumar realizes he’s left his phone in the apartment, and Roldie asks him if he wants to go back for it, and he thinks about it, and then responds, “No, we’ve gone too far.” This book is too far for me to stretch, so Charles Something is all you’re getting today, world.

Anyway, Charles dies of strychnine poisoning. The main suspect is Dr. Michael Pride, who runs the Something Free Clinic deep in the heart of Harlem. He protests that he’s innocent and there’s not a lot of evidence, and because the Something Free Clinic is also co-sponsored by the Archdiocese of New York and the Cardinal knows Gregor, Gregor gets involved.

I didn’t enjoy this mystery as much as I would have hoped. First of all, Bennis Hannaford, Gregor’s best friend and confidante this side of Father Tibor Kasparian, was left back in Philadelphia with the rest of the Cavanaugh Street Irregulars. I prefer the stories where Bennis and Gregor work together to solve the cases, because I think Bennis brings a lot to the table as a character: she’s smart, quick-thinking, funny, and fearless. Gregor is more methodical and quiet in his thinking, so he acts as kind of a cipher when Bennis isn’t there. We watch him interact with the other characters, and we know he’s solving the crime, but without Bennis there to ask about his process, we just have to kind of glide along until the third body almost shows up.

Oh Lord, that makes it sound as if Bennis doesn’t have any agency. If you haven’t read those books, the description of Bennis that I’ve written up there makes her sound as if she’s just there to provide exposition to the readers, or to act as a sounding-board for Gregor, and that’s not her at all. She is a forty-plus woman, unmarried, no kids, doesn’t want kids, an acerbic wit and an unending pack of cigarettes (this was clearly written before the Truth campaign), and completely independent. She is a millionaire, and not from old money (not sure if I’ve explained Bennis’s history before, as she is introduced in the first book, and that predates That’s What She Read – anyway, Bennis is one of the daughters from a very moneyed Bryn Mawr family on the Main Line outside of Philadelphia) – Bennis earned her millions by writing a very successful fantasy series.

Guys. She’s a writer. A fantasy writer. That’s awesome!

And she doesn’t tag along on Gregor’s adventures for no reason; she tags along because she’s bored, or she gets invited to some fancy shindig and Gregor goes with her because he’s bored, but mostly, if she’s along for the mystery ride, Gregor doesn’t really want her to be there. Because he has some chivalrous feelings towards her that the long-standing widower can’t identify, but he knows ‘protective’ is in there somewhere, and when dead bodies start to fall, he doesn’t want Bennis involved (potentially because he’s afraid it may bring up residual feelings left over from the investigation wherein he met Bennis, but that may be besides the point).

Ugh, that’s a lot of words. Anyway. Don’t think that Bennis plays the part of ‘dumb female sidekick.’ Hopefully the next Demarkian mystery uses Bennis more effectively and I can explicate her awesomeness further.

As for Dear Old Dead: I enjoyed it, but I don’t think I’d return to it again unless I decided to reread the entire series. What I like about the Demarkian novels is that you could, potentially, read them out of order, but because I’m OCD in that fashion, I feel that I have to read them from the beginning. The overall plot is about money: who’s going to get it, can I have some, Gobias some coffee — oh wow, and if you actually read the book, you’ll find out that I just made a helluva pun right there — and there are some family squabbles and churchy squabbles and Gregor pretty much comes in, sees what’s going on, and deduces almost immediately who the killer is, and then the remainder of the book is trying to catch him or her in the act.

Overall, it’s an okay book. Not horrible by any means, but not a favorite. For die-hard Gregor Demarkian fans only, I guess.

Grade for Dear Old Dead: 2 stars

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