Today’s Team Review is from Barb, she blogs here http://barbtaub.com/
Barb has been reading Madam Tulip and the Knave Of Hearts by David Ahern
My Review: 4 out of 5 stars for Madam Tulip and the Knave of Hearts by David Ahern
I fell in love with Derry, the hapless heroine of David Ahern’s cozy mystery series, in Madam Tulip, the first book of this terrific series, as she supplemented the vicissitudes of an acting career by capitalizing on her inherited psychic gifts. As the glamorous and mysterious Madam* Tulip, world-famous psychic and fortune-teller, Derry reluctantly finds herself telling fortunes for well-heeled clients. (*That’s Madam without an “e”, because she’s not married to Monsieur Tulip.)
Just as her acting career seems poised to take off, disaster strikes their venerable old theater, and Derry is forced to take a job for her wealthy American mother Vanessa—art gallery owner, agent, and force of nature. At the same time, Derry attempts to dodge the more extreme scheming of her Irish father Jacko—famous artist, compulsive gambler, and womanizer. At times Derry wonders if she’s the only one who remembers that her parents are divorced, as she’s caught in the middle of their ongoing battles/attraction.
But in the midst of these scenes from her regular life, Derry is approached by a friend from Book 1 with a command performance request for Madam Tulip from a wealthy Countess. Reluctantly, Derry agrees and along with her conscripted sidekick Bruce, is soon ensconced in the aristocratic estate and lives of a compulsive gambler Earl and his family.
As a reader, that was about the time that I started to add up the ways that author David Ahern was systematically both using and subverting the standard Cozy Mystery tropes.
The sweet old lady amateur detective is a gray wig and a costumed role for a young woman who prefers the cash to solving the crime. “Derry and Bruce were different people in as many ways as you could imagine. But they were both actors. To be insulted by offers of money was, therefore, an existential impossibility.”
Her gay best friend is not only a handsome fellow actor but he’s also a competent ex-Navy Seal and computer expert who—in contrast to Cozy genre norms—doesn’t cook, own a small dog, or give fashion advice. (Although he is somewhat-unfortunately named Bruce, so there’s that…)
Neither the police nor local medical providers are the least helpful.
The murdered body itself might be offstage, but bits of it have taken to turning up in particularly graphic ways. Despite body bits, liberal clues, and red herrings that point to the bad guys and accomplice early on, the actual motivating factor isn’t revealed until the end, when it almost doesn’t matter.
In keeping with the Cozy ethics, there is no swearing, unless “gobshite” counts. But there are no cats, no knitting, and not much use for cupcakes either. “The neighbours of the Palace Theatre were mostly bars catering to stag parties—hordes of drunken revellers whose uses for a cupcake could prove unorthodox.”
Instead of a cozy little village, the action moves to an aristocratic estate that can only be called ‘familiar’ by Downton Abby fans. There are several sightings of “HER”, and in addition to the Queen, members of the Royal family play roles. One thing that makes American-raised Derry (and Americans like me) wonder is the whole concept of the Queen and British royalty. Like Derry, we can’t quite figure it out.
‘I’ve never understood why the Irish are so keen on the British Royal Family,’ observed Derry to Jacko in a whisper. ‘You know—all that bad history. You’d think they’d have a grudge.’
‘Sure what has history to do with it, at all?’ replied Jacko. ‘Isn’t it a grand show, with all the parades and marriages and scandals galore? All paid for by the British taxpayer, God bless them. We Irish say think you very much’ do carry on.’
The book’s pacing works well, with the scene set at the aristocratic estate, eccentric characters such as the ex-showgirl Countess, and occasional arrival of random body parts. My only complaints with the book start when the cozy mystery escalates into a thriller mode that’s less convincing, with James Bond style over-the-top villains and complex rigged death scenes that frankly would have been much more easily arranged with a strategic bullet or two and some judicious arson. Indeed, Derry willingly puts herself at risk because she feels guilty over something she had no control over or responsibility for. While this enables the thriller-style finale, I think the judges would agree that it doesn’t really make sense. Sure, if Derry had been English, she would have apologized for everything from the weather to her own incompetence in briskly ferreting out the murderer. But Derry is Irish-American. And the Irish aren’t about feel guilty about bad things happening to the English, while the Americans aren’t going to apoligize for anything except possibly Donald Trump.
And finally, there is a ‘you’ve probably wondered why I’ve called you all here’ scene that’s almost an afterthought, and a bit of cozy-mystery cheating as the final motivating clue isn’t revealed until after all the action.
But you know what? These complaints are absolutely minor next to the character building, scene setting, and snarky conversation. I love this series, highly recommend it, and suggest that readers treat themselves to both books in order. I would give Madam Tulip and the Knave of Hearts an equally-enthusiastic four stars. As I said with the first book, if you’re up for a funny, well-written genre mashup with memorable characters and a great sense of voice and style, I think you’ll love this series.
***I received this book from the publisher or author to facilitate an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.***