Review: Admit to Mayhem

Admit to Mayhem 

Four stars. Recommended.

Available in e-book, paperback and audio book.

Admit to Mayhem (Horatio Press 2014) by D.J. Adamson’s is the first entry into a delightful, quirky mystery series featuring Lillian Dove, a somewhat hapless, but strong, smart young woman lost in a life she’s didn’t plan. Lillian is not sure how to deal with it all, and sometimes can’t even manage simple tasks without spilling chocolate on herself. Often overwhelmed, she rebounds, she’s resourceful, and her skills and self-confidence develop as naturally as the plot. In other words, she’s a sympathetic lead for the series, and someone readers will like and cheer for as the story develops.

Admit to Mayhem is a bit like a Joan Hess/Clare Malloy novel in tone and setting, which is meant as praise for the book. As Hess did in her books, Adamson makes excellent use of small town gossip to develop clues and plot lines, and she polishes it all—like Hess—with a delightful gloss of wit and wry humor throughout. Not so much Janet Evanovich slap-stick (though there is some of that in the book too), so much as the dry humor that comes from living life and knowing how to laugh at the absurdity in it—and not taking oneself too seriously. And, like Hess, Adamson knows how to write a clear, crisp sentence and to set a stage with her well-written prose.

In Admit to Mayhem, Lillian is trapped in a small town in the mid-west to care for her difficult mother. Though she works part-time in a liquor store, Lillian is a recovering alcoholic, and her insightful comments on drinking in general, and her drinking in particular, add a great deal to this book. She also works part-time at the police department, or does for a brief while until she either quits, is fired, or is laid off—depending upon which character is telling the story.

Before being fired or laid off, Lillian is driving home early one morning from an accidental sleep-over with her boss, the police chief, and she spots a fire. After pulling into the drive and parking her car, she sees someone in the burning house. Bravely, she climbs a ladder to try and rescue the person, burning her hands in the process, and risking her life. Things spiral out of control from that point on, and Lillian never quite gets a firm grip on anything–but she’s got spunk, she’s smart, and she has friends who help her ferret out the tangled mysteries, both past and current. And she has a great cat! No, the cat doesn’t solve mysteries, but he adds warmth to the story and shows the soft side of Lillian.

There’s a gentle, slow-moving romance—or maybe not—between Lillian and the police chief. It might take a book or too more to tell where this is going. As such, romance takes a back seat to the mystery. But the police chief is an interesting and sympathetic character—unlike the vile and vain detective that keeps hitting on Lillian and refusing to listen to her about the rising dangers facing her and her mother (and her cat).

While there’s action, adventure, and plot twists and turns, the story depends mostly on the charm, hapless misadventures, and wit of the main character. It’s a likable book, and starts off the series strong enough. Quirky in a good, natural way (that is, without seeming to try too hard), readable, with crisp narrative and snappy dialogue, and enough of a plot twist to keep readers guessing, this is charming book to read and enjoy.

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