Eddie Shoes is surrounded by a bit of chaos in the opening pages of Two Heads Are Deader Than One. Her ex-boyfriend, homicide detective Chance Parker, has recently moved back to Bellingham, Washington near Shoes. Her mentor Benjamin Cooper recently passed away. And to top it off Shoes is now living with her kooky mother, Chava, and a dog named Franklin.
As she winds down a case in her office about a teenage boy who’s run away, out of nowhere she gets a call from Dakota Fontaine, a childhood friend who is back in town and in the local jail. Shoes is reluctant to help her get bail, but her history with Dakota draws her in and becomes the catalyst for the action that follows.
Two Heads Are Deader Than One is Elena Hartwell’s second book in a series that follows female private investigator Eddie Shoes as she works cases in the Pacific Northwest. Harwell is at home writing a quirky, believable mystery that is comfortable in the Washington State setting.
Before getting arrested and bailed, Dakota had landed a job next to Eddie’s office reading Tarot Cards. Shoes questions the legitimacy of this but nevertheless is excited to have her friend back in town. But Dakota goes missing right after she is bailed out. Shoes goes to the Tarot parlour to track her down and instead finds a dead man with a bullet in his head.
Shoes becomes a suspect as her business card turns up in the dead man’s pocket. Finding Dakota becomes essential to explaining the mysterious death and clearing Shoes’ name. The case gets messier as Chance Parker is put on it, and as the shared history of Dakota and Shoes resurfaces. Hartwell handles this all nicely and the book is believable and compelling.
The strength in the narrative comes from Hartwell’s use of the backstory of the characters to give a deeper and more meaningful impetus for the action of the book. You get a real sense, as the backstory of Shoes’ and Dakota’s relationship is revealed, that the reunion and drama surrounding it is truly significant in the protagonist’s life.
The book is not overly stylistic, and little shines in terms of the writing. Hartwell’s style is functional, meant solely to convey a story. It is never clumsy but the clean writing can feel pedestrian and dull.
Another body surfaces as the plot thickens. Hartwell ramps up her use of backstory to frame and drive the case. Eventually the story becomes bogged down by these asides and they tend to drag things out a bit. There is a lot of dialogue, and perhaps too much explanation of everything from Shoes as she tells the story. We are walked and talked through much of the novel, handheld each step of the way. It feels at times as if we are not thoroughly trusted to understand what is going on.
Two Heads Are Deader Than One is a decent cosy mystery that churns along in the company of some likable characters but is inevitably bogged down by itself. There is nothing truly new here, but Shoes is a likable enough protagonist to make this a good read. Hartwell’s skill in showing characters as realistically flawed and believable people is key to Two Heads Are Deader Than One.
If you’re interested in cosy crime fiction, read this article about how American Martha Grimes reinvented the British cosy.
CFL Rating: 3 Stars