Wise-cracking detectives--from the rank amateurs who somehow stumble into the practice of investigating, to the licensed professionals with their fancy gizmos and snazzy Yellow Pages listings--are a dime a dozen in mystery novels... but a wise-cracking, ex-fashion-model, crop-dusting sleuth? That puts a quirky new spin on the genre, in R.P. Dahlke’s peppy debut, A Dead Red Cadillac.
Lalla (short for--or preferable to--Eula May) Baines is reaching a memorable conclusion to her thirty-ninth year. Still limping around, recovering from a recent on-the-job accident--one which ended spectacularly when she crash-landed her plane in a big field of tomatoes around Modesto, California--while dealing with all the usual problems such as difficult employees and an irascible boss (who happens to be her dad), and still smarting from her second divorce (from another of the two-timing losers she seems to gravitate toward), the former-model-cum-crop-duster is primarily concerned with avoiding the traditional fanfare around entering her fifth decade. (Honestly, looking in the mirror each day is all the reminder she needs of this aging stuff.)
As luck would have it, something does come up to (mostly) detract from the unwanted birthday hoopla. Unfortunately, that something involves Lalla’s beloved ’58 Cadillac--a pristine, candy-apple-red-and-chrome classic, which she hadn’t yet realized was missing from its parking spot in the barn--when it’s found submerged in a nearby lake, its signature tail fins sticking up... and one very-dead little old lady--a woman too small to even be able to see over the dashboard of the bulky car, no less--buckled in behind the wheel.
The police, after officially determining that Lalla had neither means, motive, nor opportunity to do in the harmless, widowed piano teacher (who was never much more than a casual acquaintance to her, anyway)--and certainly no reason to destroy her prize Caddy in the process!--persuade Lalla to help them with their investigation.
It seems the deceased’s favorite nephew has recently arrived from Oklahoma for a visit, and--seeing as how he was in the middle of going through his dear aunt’s house when the police showed up--they thought it prudent to bring him in for questioning. The problem is, he’s not saying much, so they figure that, since he’s asking to see/meet Lalla, anyway, she might as well help them find out whatever she can. The sooner she gets some answers from the prodigal nephew, the sooner they’ll release the Caddy to her, that’s the deal. (And no, it doesn’t exactly hurt that the nephew turns out to look like someone who poses as the cowboy hero for the cover of romance novels.)
Not that he’s the only suspicious character around, though; when someone with ties to the dead woman breaks out of prison after twenty years and turns up in town, Lalla’s suspect pool doubles. It grows even larger when she gets wind that a rival crop-dusting operation--and coincidentally, the dead woman’s ex-employer--may be involved in drug-smuggling and who knows what else.
Throw in a missing bag of money (which everyone seems to be looking for), some old love affairs, a handful of cross-dressers, a showy fifth-wheel motorhome, a twenty-year-old unsolved murder, an excitable Chihuahua, a sheriff for a BFF, and the teenage-model-wanna-be goddaughter who idolizes her--plus getting threatened, shot at, and run off the road--and poor Lalla has more than enough to occupy her mind besides her birthday.
Problem is, now that she’s actually hit 40, she’d sorta like to make sure she lives to see 41...
A Dead Red Cadillac may be Dahlke’s first published work, but it doesn’t read that way; the author is assured in her storytelling, crafting a witty, breezy, and thoroughly-entertaining lark peppered with interesting characters in a unique setting... and even tossing in some (much-appreciated) surprising twists along the way.
(Mystery fans-on-a-budget, take note, too: both A Dead Red Cadillac and its sequel, A Dead Red Heart, are each currently available on Amazon for Kindle/Kindle apps at the bargain price of only 99 cents, making these a real steal... of the not-so-criminal variety.)