Written by Phyllis Smallman — Her CV might describe her as owner of the Sunset Bar in Jacaranda, Florida, but in truth Sherri Travis is a woman who has made a career out of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Martini Nights is Sherri’s sixth appearance, and once more, she is up to her neck in trouble. The book begins as she is driving home from a girlie weekend in Miami. She was meant to be back in Jac ages ago, but that last martini proved too big a draw and it is dark as she wends her way homewards.
She’s low on fuel too, and heaves a huge sigh of relief when she spots the sign for a gas station. The self-congratulation is short-lived though, because our girl with a nose for trouble has done it again – big time. Sherri walks in on a row between the gas station assistant and a young man. He is desperately begging her for help after witnessing an unnamed crime; she is steadfastly refusing to get involved. Going against the instincts that have got her into such dire straits on previous occasions, Sherri chooses to ignore the contretemps, pay for her gas and get on her way.
But Tito, the desperate young man, has other ideas, and knocks Sherri over and steals her car. She is left in the middle of nowhere with no hope of help. Angie, the gas station assistant acts true to form and makes a hasty retreat and Sherri is left alone to ponder the threat of some shadowy folk coming to find Tito. What happens if they find her instead? And that’s that rustling in the undergrowth? This is the land of snakes and gators, after all.
Cue a crazy episode where Sherri finds a canoe and tries to make her escape down a drainage canal, pursued by faceless villains. At times it may border on the fringes of farce, but Smallman’s narrative never falters in its frenetic pace and sense of high drama as our heroine finds, in no particular order: a deserted plant nursery, a dead body, her pickup truck and the young man who stole it. And, Sherri being Sherri, she finds a shedload of bother too. What started out as a late night dash home to boyfriend Clay has turned into a nightmare journey which could have fatal repercussions.
If you like your crime to be entertaining as well as tense then Phyllis Smallman’s Sherri Travis series is for you. The central character is feisty, brave to the point of crazy and never one to keep her own counsel as well as being immensely likeable. The plot, involving murder and a missing orchid, is certainly original and a page turner to boot (although other types of footwear play a part in it).
If, like me, your knowledge of Florida is limited to Walt Disney World, then Smallman’s depiction of the state she now calls home will likely come as something of a surprise. Forget Mickey Mouse, much more lethal creatures are to be found here – and some of them have two legs! The contrast between the opening setting at the edge of the Everglades and the fancy pants island retreat which Sherri visits late in the book is stark – although both have their downsides for our heroine. This is an enjoyable read with a finale to leave you shaken and stirred.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars