Cozy Mysteries with Klingons - Brad Tate reviews Barbara Venkataraman's latest collection
April 14, 2016
A Review of Barbara Venkataraman’s Jamie Quinn Mystery Collection
by Brad Tate
I smiled and was pretty sure I’d lucked into several hours of good reading when I saw the first title in Barbara Venkataraman’s Jamie Quinn Mystery Collection -- Death by Didgeridoo. I couldn’t have been more right. Never mind it being about as likely that I’d turn down beer or chocolate as not find out how someone ended up dead at the wrong end of a long, wooden, Australian wind instrument, the books Death by Didgeridoo, The Case of the Killer Divorce, and Peril in the Park are a jackpot of reading entertainment.
The collection is built around the lovably quirky Jamie Quinn and her entertainingly eccentric family and friends. Jamie, still mourning the loss of her mother, begins the series alone and unmoored. She is yanked into the world of amateur detective work when her autistic nephew, Adam, is arrested for murdering his music teacher. Over the course of the three books Jamie goes from lonely and unsure to tackling high-stakes mysteries with an expanding circle of family, friends, and bad actors.
Venkataraman does a beautiful job painting this circle of people in Jamie’s life. Duke Broussard, when not nursing a beer or smooth talking the ladies, is a talented private investigator. For all of his imperfections, Duke is a loyal, warmhearted friend and may be the most likable and smile-inducing character in the series next to Jamie. Grace, Jamie’s best friend and trusted adviser, is a successful lawyer with a securities firm. She is sharp, witty, and reliably there when Jamie needs her. Then, there is Nick Dimitropoulos, the ambitious Senator’s son with the State Attorney’s office that plays Jamie’s foil. There are a host of others, each as unambiguously likable or unlikable as might be expected from a well-done cozy mystery.
And, as might be expected from a series of small town (Hollywood, Florida), amateur detective tales, the stories are well-executed fun. Totaling fewer than 340 pages, the books and their chapters are compact and maintain an athletic pace. Every scene, interaction, and bit of dialogue is crisp and serves to keep Jamie’s sleuthing determinedly moving forward. The primary mysteries keep the pages turning. Jamie’s personal quest to find her father, as well as the addition of a love interest in The Case of the Killer Divorce, span the books and tie them together. I enjoyed each mystery, but it was wondering what Jamie would discover about her father or what adventure her rekindled high school flame might ignite that had me plowing through the books, one after the other.
Like I mentioned, I had a feeling I’d found something special as soon as I saw the first book’s title. With references to Muddy Waters, PB, honey & banana sandwiches, Cervantes, and Klingons, I was sold. But, the collection has so much more to recommend it than clever titles and witty cultural connections. The mysteries are light, enjoyable reading supported by well-developed characters, organized writing, and an upbeat tempo. The Jamie Quinn Mystery Collection is clean entertainment I would comfortably recommend to anyone, adolescent to eighty.
Brad Tate is an avid reader, runner, and financial industry risk consultant who writes clever reviews for Quick Wit Lit. He resides in the Village of Clemmons, NC with his wife and three children.