Friday, October 30, 2009

Mystery Book Review: Service Dress Blues by Michael Bowen

Mysterious Reviews, mysteries reviewed by the Hidden Staircase Mystery Books, is publishing a new review of Service Dress Blues by Michael Bowen. For our blog readers, we are printing it first here in advance of its publication on our website.

Service Dress Blues by Michael Bowen

by
A Rep and Melissa Pennyworth Mystery

Poisoned Pen Press (Hardcover)
ISBN-10: 1-59058-667-0 (1590586670)
ISBN-13: 978-1-59058-667-9 (9781590586679)
Publication Date: September 2009
List Price: $24.95

Review: Attorney Rep Pennyworth's latest client hires him to copyright a politically controversial song, then is found murdered soon thereafter, in Service Dress Blues, the fifth mystery in this series by Michael Bowen.

Ole Lindstrom and his wife Lena are aging hippies but still politically active, especially when it comes to local issues, in this case Indians and casinos. They've also been known to be physically abusive with each other. Not long after Ole hires Rep, Lena is arrested for knocking him out with a frying pan. Ole insists she didn't do it (despite the fact she's found with the object in her hands), and bails her out. When he's later found murdered, and scalped, Lena is taken into custody again, though the manner in which Ole is found suggests a political motive rather than a domestic dispute. Meanwhile, Ole had wanted to involve Harald, his All-American nephew and a midshipman at the Naval Academy, in his political campaign, but he's in a bit of trouble himself; his wallet, keys, and more important, his academy pass, have been stolen. Though Rep's client is dead, he wants to clear Lena's name as well as try to figure out if there's a connection between the death of Ole and his nephew's problems in Annapolis. "Ole Lindstrom [was] killed because he tried to prevent the corruption of a corrupt system from corrupting him," he says to Melissa.

Typical of the books in this series, the plot of Service Dress Blues is convoluted, involving disparate, seemingly unrelated events that will eventually be tied together by Rep and his wife Melissa. As Melissa summarizes at one point, "This mess didn't start with the arson in Loki or with Ole Lindstrom's murder or with the burglary of the Lindstrom home last December. It started with Harald Lindstrom being drugged and mugged near Annapolis. This isn't a series of isolated felonies. It's a mini-crime wave focused on the Lindstrom family." Much of the fun in reading these books comes from how Rep and Melissa will link a random encounter in their personal lives that triggers an "a-ha" revelation related to the case. Part of the problem here, however, is their case, solving the murder of Ole, simply isn't all that compelling. There are the requisite number of quirky characters that add color to the story, a locked room / impossible crime aspect that has some appeal, and some interesting locations that Rep and Melissa visit, but altogether it feels a bit flat.

Service Dress Blues has its moments, and fans of the series will enjoy Rep and Melissa's banter as well as the situations in which they frequently find themselves, but overall, it's rather disappointing as a mystery.

Special thanks to Poisoned Pen Press for providing an ARC of Service Dress Blues for this review.

Review Copyright © 2009 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved

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Synopsis (from the publisher): On the night before the 2008 Army-Navy Game, a midshipman is found stark naked and barely alive in the lobby of a cheap motel near the Naval Academy. The plebe's closest relatives are Ole and Lena Lindstrom, a pair of aging but still scrappy Wisconsin political activists who want lawyer Rep Pennyworth to help them get copyright protection for an audacious package of campaign ideas that put rich and ruthless gambling interests in the cross-hairs. The political neophyte they have in mind as a candidate heads a think-tank at UWM, where she is exploiting for her own political purposes the sensitive issue of domestic violence.

Ole and Lena themselves have a well-earned reputation for trading punches with each other. So when Ole is murdered, Lena becomes an instant suspect. But Rep and Melissa are sure that more than coincidence ties the midshipman's mugging near Annapolis to Ole Lindstrom's murder in Milwaukee. Along with their good friend, criminal lawyer Walk Kuchinski, Rep and Melissa attack the mystery with unconventional investigative techniques such as discussing Anna Karenina with a hooker, answering baseball trivia questions, and reviewing fourth-grade geography lessons.

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