Cutie Pie Must Die – R.W. Clinger (Bold Strokes Books)

9781602829619Buy from Bold Strokes Books

Sometimes the best part of a mystery is not necessarily the mystery. I don’t know whether this is a fault or not. I suppose in a larger sense it is, especially for those readers who look for clues and revelations and love to match wits with fictional detectives. However, I’d make a lousy detective myself. I often get so carried away by the characters that I forget about the clues or don’t pay close attention to them. I’m quite happy letting the story unfold without trying to guess it. And with a book as funny and smart-assed as Cutie Pie Must Die, I was very satisfied to let the author take me where he wanted me to go.

Hair salon accountant and part-time detective Troy Murdock has scored the man of his dreams–All-American quarterback (for the Violators) Ben Pieney. Taking him home to his apartment over the salon, some wild, hunkalicious sex ensues. They part and Murdock drifts off to sleep. He’s awakened the next morning by the high-pitched screams of the salon’s co-owner, Umberto Clemente, who has found Ben at the bottom of Troy’s steps with his throat cut. Detective Zane Ward is assigned to the case, but he has history with Troy, nearly killing him by accident the three times they dated. Nevertheless, Ward blackmails number one suspect Murdock not only into helping him with the case but into bed as well. Then a couple more bodies turn up, including the quarterback’s brother. A serial killer? Only Murdock and Ward can find out for sure.

Even Clinger’s minor characters pop with inventiveness. Umberto Clemente is the strangely hilarious camp reference point, but on a less stereotypical side is Murdock’s ex, Ivan Reed. Reed is still closeted, claiming bisexuality even though he doesn’t really sleep with his erstwhile girlfriend, Luanne, because she’s too busy working at Hooters and harassing Murdock. Reed is as earnest in his affection for Murdock as Luanne is batshit crazy. And Murdock’s prissy, judgmental, racist mother is also a hoot.

At its core, though, is the “c’mere, c’mere–get away, get away” relationship between Murdock and Ward. Ward really wants another shot at Murdock (interpret that however you like), and Murdock is just as determined not to have his life in jeopardy a fourth time. He doesn’t want Ward in his life. Or does he? This sexual tension is the thread that winds through both the plot and mystery. Although some readers might find the constant wavering from yes to no and back again a bit off-putting, Clinger’s sense of the absurd as well as his laugh-out-loud funny dialogue makes it all work.

In fact, I tried to find an exchange or two that exemplify this, but Clinger has interspersed the plot and the humor so solidly that I was unable to break off a chunk that adequately captured the flavor of the book. And it definitely has one–a bitter fluff or an acidic smirk. I don’t think this is a book that will appeal to all mystery readers, but if you like your murders with a tongue firmly planted in one cheek, this is definitely for you.

Which means, of course, I loved it.

©  2013  Jerry L. Wheeler

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