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60s Music, Vendettas, Girl Bands, and Murder

Author: Kathy Hogan Trocheck

In Happy Never After, Callahan Garrity, a retired (read failed) police investigator and owner of House Mouse cleaning service, takes on a case in her free-time. It’s not her usual side-case, but friends and family want her to find out whatever happened to the long-missing member of the 60s girl group, VelvetTeens, so that they can participate in a successful (and lucrative) reunion. When a missing person’s case becomes a murder case, however, Callahan is going to need all the help (and not-entirely-legal schemes) she can get. Will the crazed killer decide to strike again and take Callahan out of the game, or is the killer actually her disgraced, drunken client who was literary found with the smoking gun but claims innocence?

This is my first encounter with the Callahan Garrity mystery series, although it’s the fourth book in the ongoing adventures of Callahan and her friends/cleaning staff. This book came to me through one of my long ago eBay book hauls, where I bought boxes of random cozy mysteries. I pulled Happy Never After off the shelf without reading the back cover and was at first disappointed. A cleaning service hardly sounds cozy or interesting, and the focus of this mystery is on 60s teen stars and the show-biz behind the scenes, two things that fascinate most people but fail to resonate with me. I was ready to force myself through (few books have defeated me) and hate every second, but I actually found myself pulled into this gritty, southern cozy.

Image by Shad0wfall from Pixabay

Callahan does actually have training, an investigators license, and a gun, meaning that the usual amateur failures and gaping plot holes cozy mysteries are known for rarely appear here. Callahan’s cleaners don’t enter the picture often (and admittedly, when they do their side chatter and silliness is an annoying distraction), but the remaining members of the VelvetTeens, including the down and out Rita Fontaine, are surprisingly down to earth and relatable.

The victim is a high powered recording company owner, Stu Hightower, whose past treatment of the group makes them, especially Rita, the perfect suspect. Add this to the fact that Rita threatened the man and ended up at the scene with her fingerprints on the gun, and you have an interesting strain of events that takes us away from the missing sister into the complications of the music industry and the heartbreak of lost dreams and popularity.  Hightower has a shady past, however, and with just a little digging Callahan finds many potential suspects, from an ex wife, to current clients, to Stu’s wealthy neighbors. With time ticking down and the VelvetTeens future hanging by a thread, Callahan goes undercover to find out what really happened that night at Stu’s and who (if anyone) set-up Rita to take the fall.

Image by Sabine Mondestin from Pixabay

Showbiz and music industry, plus 60s music, isn’t my bailiwick, nor does it elicit nostalgia (I am, after all, a child of the 90s), but I see how Kathy Hogan Trocheck (who is really Mary Kay Andrews) creates a certain appeal. People who loves 60s music or who have fond memories of the time are sure to appreciate the culture and enjoy Callahan’s reminiscence as she digs deep into record company dirty-deals, old love affairs, and multiple betrayals.

Meanwhile, Callahan’s own life is falling apart. Her boyfriend CW (who appears to have been a long running character) has gone from perfect to cruel, and it’s hard for our down-and-out detective to take in the loss in her own life as she tries to help her clients put their hopes and dreams back together. The side story is a good add to the drama and gives us insight into Callahan from a different viewpoint. In some ways, I was more into the broken love story than the mystery of who-killed-Stu.

In the end, the real killer is quite a surprise, and we get some tense moments as Callahan realizes her fatal mistake. I’m still not enamored with the music industry angle, or house cleaning, but I recognize a quality cozy that is well thought out and well put together. I’m a little tempted to read some others of the series, but I have limited book time and the subject matter just isn’t my favorite. I enjoyed myself anyway, though, and think this is one of the more substantial editions to the world of cozy mystery books.

A few warnings though: you will see some bad language and some serious concepts in this book (alcohol and drug abuse, namely). Also, the race talk (the VelvetTeens were a popular, black 60s band) is insensitive/stereotypical in several cringe worthy scenes of dialogue.

– Frances Carden

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Frances Carden
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