Peace, Love, and Murder
by Nancy Holzner
Five Star (publishing) – 367 pages
Bo Forrester is a resourceful, latter-day hippie who has returned to the town of his birth in upstate New York in search of his parents who he has not seen since he rebelled against their hippie lifestyle 20 years ago and joined the army. The pony-tailed vegetarian takes a job as a cab driver where he falls in with an odd assortment of characters including his daily fares and his cab company compatriots.
When a body is found in his trunk, Forrester takes us on a joy ride through a small university town–with side trips to New York City–as the cabbie tries to find evidence that will persuade the local cops he had nothing to do with the murder. Almost from the beginning, the unusual characters as much as the action propel the first-person story along. A nympho college art professor and her insanely jealous ex-con husband, a filthy rich graffiti-style artist, an art foundation executive with a gambling addiction and assorted low-lifes populate Nancy Holzner’s first mystery novel.
Trudy Hauser is a petite deputy sheriff who is Forrester’s sometimes nemesis, sometimes partner as the case gets weirder and weirder. Drug trafficking and assault figure in the plot as author Holzner has her cabbie-detective interviewing suspects and chasing wild leads while Hauser tails him.
Holzner’s assured, straightforward style includes the classic language of the genre. Forrester learns that the body in his trunk belonged to a well educated, wealthy philanthropist. “A life like that wasn’t supposed to end in the trunk of a cab.” Later, in his taxi, Forrester says to himself, “Felicia’s presence lingered in the cab, like a trace of her perfume.” Forrester almost loses a suspect he was tailing because, “Hedlund moved pretty fast for someone built like a sofa cushion.”
Some of the smart-alecky narrative had me wondering if Forrester sounded more like a street-smart PI rather than a tofu eating refuge from a commune: “I wondered what Felicia was doing, and the best that I could come up with was a blurry image of cocktails, country clubs, and people swanning around in designer clothes.” This sounds strangely like a line from a Mitchum or Bogart film noir. Regardless, Forrester is a savvy and likable protagonist.
He has enough moxie to tough it out in a biker bar by pretending to be a cop, but he’s less sure of himself with Felicia, the beautiful widow of the corpse in his trunk. At times his approach to women he’s attracted to seems overly reticent particularly with Felicia. But as Forrester explains, “…she was so far out of my league we might as well be different species.”
About three-quarters of the way through, Forrester’s run from police in a snowstorm when he’s without a car or a place to hold up is inventive and compelling.
A couple of trivial technical observations: Hauser carries a .38 semi-auto. Although such caliber semi-auto pistols do exist, they’re uncommon. Most .38s are revolvers. And at one point Forrester thinks about disabling a bad guy’s car by popping off the distributor cap. Cars haven’t had distributor caps in a long time. Aside from these quibbles, the book is smooth sailing.
One of my favorite lines: “She was furious. In a comic book, flames would be shooting from her eyes.”
Whether you figure out whodunit may depend on whether you miss a nicely tossed off clue that slipped by me. This novel is a great example of my favorite form of mystery: one with plot twists and clues that challenge you (and make it possible for you) to solve the puzzle plus a blend of action and suspense to hasten the pace.
An adroit writing style, quirky characters, sufficient plot twists and funny lines that several times made me chuckle out loud combine to create a satisfying, page-turner mystery.
Holzner has also written several well-received urban fantasy books. We hope a sequel to Peace, Love and Murder is in the works.