Much to Alanis McLachlan’s surprise, her estranged con-woman mother has left her an inheritance: The White Magic Five & Dime, a shop in tiny Berdache, Arizona. Reluctantly traveling to Berdache to claim her new property, Alanis decides to stay and pick up her mother’s tarot business in an attempt to find out how she died.
With help from a hunky cop and her mother’s live-in teenage apprentice, Alanis begins faking her way trough tarot readings in order to win the confidence of her mother’s clients. But the more she uses the tarot deck, the more Alanis begins to find real meaning in the cards … and the secrets surrounding her mother’s demise.
The White Magic Five & Dime captured and held my attention from the first chapter to the last. It’s an absorbing, character-driven, and rather clever mystery. It’s also surprisingly funny, employing a cynical, sometimes dark form of snark delivered by the main character/narrator, Alanis McLachlan:
I don’t have any cats. They remind me too much of my mother. Beautiful, finicky, aloof, and you’re the one who always has to clean up their crap.
[describing the book’s eponymous store] And there were these words: The White Magic Five & Dime. Divination * Revelation * Bargains.
For obvious reasons, Mom had left off her true stock in trade. Lies.
. . . I took it Detective Logan was a popular man. Given his looks, I wasn’t surprised. He was like a taller, younger George Clooney, only not so homely.
Alanis’ narrative voice is perfect; it never wavers off-pitch, even on the relatively rare occasions when she drops the sarcasm and cynicism for a few moments. In fact, one of the joys of the book is the moments when she allows herself to be soft, to be caring. It’s not something that comes easily to her, and as she reveals her backstory to you through flashbacks, you’ll come to understand why.
The plot appears straightforward: estranged daughter seeks justice for murdered mother. But there is much more going on, and several twists that I did not see coming. I did, however, spot the murderer fairly quickly — although to be fair, there were a number of other possibilities and I kept an open mind until nearly the end.
The tarot plays an integral part in the plot, and the descriptions and interpretations of various tarot cards, taken from a (fictitious) book by “Miss Chance”, are often hysterical and occasionally thought-provoking. Don’t worry if you’re not familiar with the tarot deck; almost all the important cards appear as illustrations somewhere, although in my Kindle version they’re not always connected with the relevant text. Pay attention to the cards and descriptions; they can serve as hints of what’s to come.
Overall, I don’t know that I would class The White Magic Five & Dime as a cozy mystery. Alanis’s background, the fact that it’s her mother’s murder she’s investigating, and the rather shady milieu she finds herself working in all make the book lean more toward “regular” mystery with a comic but not facetious bent. Cozy or not, it’s sometimes insightful, cleverly plotted, and always entertaining.
Goodreads notes that the book is the first in the Tarot Mystery series. I’m curious as to how a sequel will work. There’s plenty of scope for one, given the denouement and wrap-up, but on the other hand, much of the strength of The White Magic Five & Dime is in the character of Alanis and the slow revelation of her past. A good quarter or third of the book is spent in flashbacks. It’s hard to tell whether the next one, assuming it focuses more on the mystery now that Alanis’ past is known, will have the same appeal. Regardless, book two is going on my TBR list as soon as it’s announced. And that’s despite the fact that this is decidedly not my usual sort of mystery. Kudos to Hockensmith and Falco for grabbing and keeping my interest outside of my usual comfort zone.
Rating: 4 stars
Series: Tarot Mystery #1
Publisher: Midnight Ink
Release date: July 8, 2014
Book source: I received a digital review copy via Great Escapes Book Tours, in exchange for an honest review.
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