Saturday, December 28, 2013

Up Yours! A vaudeville of a mystery, featuring Ted and Liv, the anti-Nick and Nora

Up Yours! by Howard Rosenberg introduces Ted and Liv, the anti-Nick and Nora

This book is a hoot, a vaudeville of a mystery featuring Ted and Liv, the anti-Nick and Nora.  They live in Friendly Lakes, a refuge away from the mayhem of Los Angeles, and the LA Times, where Ted was the bard of obituary writers, until one day the floss king, his Uncle Robert, died leaving him his fortune. At 55, Ted decided to put his cell phone in a filing cabinet for the slow life.  Yet there he is, at his proctologist, his Calvins' at his ankles, asked yet once more about his retirement plan, when Private Eye pops out.  His doctor, Brownie, immediately asks him to look into the matter of Sam Fine, a pharmacist, who may have a touch of Alzheimer’s and be writing bad prescriptions.  

When Fine, a non-swimmer, is found drowned in Friendly Lake, for not the first time in this novel, Ted realizes he’s an amateur out of his depth. Yet he goes forward, sharing strategy, pop-tarts and frozen burritos, with Liv, his downscale cook and “tomato.” There is also their cat George, who reduced an allergic suspect to a comatose state without even trying. 

By trial and error, self-correcting with thoughts of Chandler, Ted and Liv find their way and it’s not pretty. Their picture postcard community Friendly Lake is full of ambiguous characters. There’s the widow, Twinkle, a babe, thirty years younger than her husband, who seems almost too broken up. There’s Fine’s assistant, Betty, who knows some dirty business and tied with that revelation are the secrets of Curly the local newspaper dilettante, Vann the hot macho actor, and even the beautiful and reform-minded Mayor Molly. With their requisite and hapless cop, Tiles, they exceed everyone’s expectations, including those of the murderer. And when they unravel the mystery, justice is not served up by the law, but the great goddess Nemesis.

Especially fun in this madcap mystery, are Ted’s old obits, which appear before chapters and set the tone:

 “Her acclaimed memoir, ‘The B-Word and Me,’ recounted the 14 years she studied and interacted with brown bears in the northwestern United States. ‘“ It can be dangerous work,’ she wrote, “but I’ve never had a close call, not one bite, not one scratch. I have respect for these large and awesome creatures; I have no fear.’ She meant it. “Yet her allergy to another B-word— a less than large, less than awesome creature— proved fatal to famed naturalist Sarah Schnuster-Schnitsky at age 60. “On Friday, while caring for honeysuckle in her garden, she was fatally stung by a bee...”

I look forward to the next mystery in this series by Howard Rosenberg, Pulitzer Prize winner and, in fact, retiree from the LA Times.