Review for Dead Guy's Stuff, by Sharon Fiffer

Jane Wheel gave up her day job, and now spends her time picking. When she stumbles across a basement room full of tavern paraphernalia from thirty years back, she takes it all…including a man’s finger, floating in a jar of formaldehyde. Believing somehow that the finger has a mysterious secret, Jane pushes into the past, discovering a web of secrets and lies that comes far too close to home.

I really enjoyed this book, but for the longest time I couldn’t put my finger on why. Sure, the main character spends her time engaged in activities I’ve recently come to enjoy watching on shows like American Pickers and Auction Kings. But that wasn’t it. Then, finally, it dawned on me: absolutely none of the characters in this book are typical 8-to-5 people. They’re those who serve them, or those who prey on them, or those who simply live alongside them. But none of these characters are the “average” American. There aren’t even any retired old ladies (in the sleuth department, anyway). It was such a fresh approach to the genre that it made reading all the more enjoyable.

That said, I did find Jane a little inconsistent. Sometimes, she’d figure out a clue in an snap, worthy of Adrian Monk. Other times, she’d be baffled for pages and pages on what seemed a simple deduction.

Her husband Charley and son Nick made for an interesting family dynamic, though they didn’t spend a lot of time standing out in this book. The fact that Charley and Jane start the book as separated but living in the same house was intriguing, and Charley sounded like an awesome guy. I wished there were more of him in this book.

Jane’s mother, Nellie, featured in this novel, but I found myself torn between not getting her at all and laughing at her unrealistic actions. SPOILER At one point she is kidnapped, and bustles around making breakfast for her captors, because that’s what she’s used to doing. But she slips some crushed Valium into the eggs and then duct tapes everyone up, all as if it’s no big deal. END SPOILER Hilarious! But it felt that Nellie had barged in on the plot with a short story of her own, so that what happened to her wouldn’t be “too scary”.

The plot started off slowly, with nothing but Jane’s concerns about the severed finger driving it forward. The middle section provided a good balance of entertainment and suspense, though unrelated to the finger yet. By the time the finger had been proven to be relevant, I admit the plot had leaped to a new level that I wasn’t entirely enjoying. That’s because its focus had left Kankakee, where everything else had been happening. It felt as if the author was shooing in bad guys from afar because she couldn’t find a way to make them be local. Which is neither here nor there, to have local bad guys. It was the way that they were the only bit of the plot that felt out of place, that felt off.

And once again, SPOILER the killer’s success is not punished. What is it with these books? I don’t remember this annoying trend in cozies when I started reading them a couple decades back. Little old ladies getting away with murder because “he deserved it”, over and over again! END SPOILER What. The. Heck. I didn’t know there was such a large demographic of retired, vigilante women in this country.

I enjoyed all aspects of the fund raiser house. To have it tie into the plot as well was just bonus.

The writing was enjoyable to read and flowed smoothly. There were, unfortunately, far too many errors for my enjoyment, however, and of a disturbing variety. If I were proofing a book that would represent the publishing company I worked for, and it had a single error, I’d be absolutely mortified. Come on, people. This is your job, and you're making the author look bad.

Lastly, I was puzzled by the choice to write in a fully omniscient POV. The scenes wandered from one character’s view and thoughts to another’s with the flick of a paragraph. Some included three different people, one after the other and back again. Others just led from character A to character B. I had no trouble following, but I did have trouble settling down and identifying with any of the characters because the interruptions of each other’s thoughts postponed a true feeling of knowing any one of them on their own separate terms. It was a little like reading about three amoebae rather than eight separate characters. It was a minor annoyance, but one that never went away.

4 of 5 stars.

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