Secondhand Smoke by Karen E. Olson

Secondhand   Smoke by Karen E. Olson

Reviewed by L.D.Y.

Hardcover, 259 pages, 2006

Rating: 7/10

Reason for Reading: I read the first few paragraphs and decided it was enough to make me want to read the whole book.

Synopsis: Annie Seymour is a journalist who’s about to discover the hard lessons of covering a story that’s too close to home. When a popular restaurant in her neighborhood burns down, and a body is discovered inside, Annie pursues the story despite the danger – possibly from someone she knows.

Why you should read this book: For the first few chapters, I was afraid I’d stumbled across a Janet Evanovich knock-off – a bumbling woman with two men in her life that she can’t quite have, food-crazy and less than domestic. But once the plot picks up, Annie becomes a force of her own, and the plot becomes weightier and thoroughly entertaining. The fact that the crimes are taking place so close to home add a lot of tension, as the reader suspects, even when Annie doesn’t, that even some of the people she loves might be willing to betray her. If Evanovich isn’t writing fast enough for you, or if you just like a mystery with a bit of slapstick humour thrown in, pick up Secondhand Smoke.

Why you should avoid this book: Sometimes Olson tries too hard to be funny, which is when she starts to feel like Evanovich at her worst. You can almost feel on the page when she went, ‘okay, throw in something funny/outrageous, and try to use the word ass.’ Things don’t really seem age-appropriate to Annie, and I mean that as a compliment to women in their early forties – the flakey behaviour works much better with Evanovich’s ten-years-younger Stephanie Plum character.

Opening paragraph:

I smelled smoke. My feet hit the floor before my eyes opened, my nose leading me into the kitchen. I flicked the switch next to the refrigerator, and the light above the stove blinded me for a second before I saw all the dials were on ‘off.’ I turned toward the living room, walked around the corner, my eyes searching every nook and cranny until I saw the red glow outside, catty-corner from my brownstone on Wooster Square.

Fabulous quotes:

‘She’ll eat anything.’ Tom didn’t have to say that they way he did, and I temporarily forgot the plate in my hand as I gave him a dirty look. Vinny was smirking, and it was almost as if they were forming some sort of alliance.
That wouldn’t do.
I popped an olive in my mouth and eyed Vinny. His resemblance to Frank Sinatra hit me again. Not the old, fat Frank who couldn’t remember the words to his songs, but Frank from the 1950s, like when he was in High Society with Grace Kelly and had some pretty smooth moves. Yeah, that was Vinny, smooth as silk.
‘Now, boys, let’s not get nasty,’ I said.
I could see both of them itching to say something, but to their credit, they just shook their heads and tried not to laugh.

‘What the hell are you doing in here?’ came a voice from behind me.
I spun around so quickly, I slipped and fell forward onto Vinny. He steadied me, but he was distracted; his eyes were taking in everything.
‘Jesus Christ, Vinny, you scared the shit out of me,’ I scolded.
‘I heard something over here. Sounded like a gunshot. What’s going on?’
‘You might want to ask the guy with the gun who just left.’

Also recommended: Bubbles in Trouble by Sarah Strohmeyer; A Confidential Source by Jan Brogan; One for the Money by Janet Evanovich.

Also by this author: Sacred Cows.

Author’s website:

Fun tidbit: Olson states on her website that she gravitated toward writing mysteries because in the books she read, ‘the women protagonists were smart and didn’t allow themselves to be victimized.’

Would I read more by this author? I’d read more, though they probably wouldn’t be top-priority must-reads.

© Lisa Yanaky 2003-2007

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