Bothari’s #CBR4 Review #29: Wanting Sheila Dead by Jane Haddam
I love the anticipation of starting a book I know I’m going to enjoy. A favorite character, a trusted author, a recommendation from someone who’s usually right – it’s great to open a new book and know it’s going to be good. Jane Haddam is one of those trusted authors, and I love her Gregor Demarkian series.
Gregor is a retired FBI agent who consults with the Philadelphia police when they’ve got an especially sticky case. He’s not your typical curmudgeonly character, but in this book he was crankier than I’ve ever seen him. It fit in perfectly with this particular case, though. In Wanting Sheila Dead, a reality TV show called America’s Next Superstar is filming in Philadelphia. This American Idol/Top Model/Top Whatever rip-off gathers a 14 teenage girls, puts them through challenges, and then eventually producer Sheila Dunham picks her favorite. Sheila is the Simon Cowell type, and is famous for being mean, hateful, contrary, and just generally awful to the contestants, the staff, and everyone around her. Shots are fired at a casting call, and a dead body ends up on location once the show starts filming, but Sheila herself isn’t harmed. Gregor Demarkian is brought in on the case to figure out who’s doing the shooting before anybody else drops dead.
Gregor likes order, and figuring things out, and he wants things to make logical sense. A house full of teenage girls who want to be famous makes absolutely no sense to him, but he wades into the melee with his usual aplomb, ignoring Sheila’s tantrums and the girls’ tears. The contestants are constantly hysterical, and absolutely everyone is a suspect because absolutely everyone hates Sheila. It is not a normal case, and Gregor’s frustration grows as the mystery drags out.
To add to his frustration, another mystery pops up in Gregor’s Armenian-American neighborhood. An elderly neighbor is found unconscious in her home, and it turns out a delusional, possibly-homeless woman has been staying there. The Very Old Ladies of Cavanaugh Street demand that Gregor figure out who the woman was and get to the bottom of the neighbor’s medically-baffling coma.
Gregor’s got a lot on his plate in this book, so there isn’t much time spent on the peripheral characters, such as his best friend Father Tibor and his new wife Bennis, who are usually along for the ride. There’s a lot going on, though, and I didn’t miss them too much.
One thing did stand out to me while reading. My father is a writer, and he’s always stressing the importance of individual voices for each character. He says you should be able to take out all the “she said” and “he commented” or whatever, and still be able to identify who’s speaking. In this book, it stood out to me more that everybody sounds like Gregor. Even the teenage girls think and talk like him. It didn’t detract too much from the story, since I am a fan of Gregor, but it did knock a couple points off. Otherwise, a good mystery (I didn’t figure it out) and an enjoyable read.