24 February 2014

The White Magic Five & Dime

The White Magic Five & Dime (A Tarot Mystery)The White Magic Five & Dime by Steve Hockensmith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Athena Passalis, Tarot reader and con artist, has been murdered, found brutally strangled in her Arizona establishment by her teenaged assistant. Although Athena's daughter Alanis has been estranged from her mother for many years, Athena has willed everything to her, including the White Magic Five & Dime.

At first, Alanis assumes that her mother's shady dealings have caught up with her, that Tarot-reading was merely the last of her mother's many schemes to pry money from gullible souls in this Sedona-Lite town. Not all is as it seems, though, and Alanis decides to take on her mother's last career choice to help a delectable police detective find the killer.

Armed with a deck of Tarot cards and a puckish Tarot guidebook (Infinite Roads to Knowing by Miss Chance), Alanis employs imagination, intuition, and the ability to spot "tells" that she learned in her peripatetic childhood, when she, her mother, and Athena's partner comprised a travelling scam circus. Suspects are plentiful. Was it the husband of a woman whom Athena had urged to buy a herd of llamas? The family of an aged woman who had been convinced to let Athena take away her "cursed" jewelry for her own protection? A bumbling bail-bondsman who was ridiculously easy to identify after a threatening phone call?

Miss Chance's book gives Alanis the basics of Tarot meanings along with asides that appeal to her own cynicism. (As in, yes, the symbolism on the cards could seem overblown enough for a Lady Gaga video.) The Hermit, muses Miss Chance, may seem like an isolated crazy in Idaho who writes anti-government screeds in a cabin, but the card-reader still should listen and learn. Likewise the muumuu-wearing Justice, or the Wheel, which might bring treasure, or might bring a winged cow. Listen and learn...

Alanis begins to feel an unaccustomed pleasure in the life of a small town. What am I really doing here? she asks the cards. The 8 of Pentacles hints at the value of learning a useful trade that could benefit a community. Perhaps, she thinks, she could stay and use the Tarot for good instead of for scams.

Yes, Alanis solves her mother's murder. (That fact really isn't a spoiler in a cozy mystery.) The reader is in for an enjoyable beginning to a new mystery series. Recommended.  Why only 4 stars? Because this reader guessed two plot points a bit too soon. I chalk it up to the authors' need to establish the who and where, and I forgive. I'll certainly read a sequel.

I received a reader's copy of this book from NetGally. This is a fair and unbiased review.

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