Monday, September 29, 2008

Edna Buchanan - Legally Dead (review)

Crime writer Edna Buchanan, like her old newspaper colleagues Carl Hiaasen and Dave Barry, used a stint at the Miami Herald as a springboard to a career as a novelist.

Her latest, Legally Dead, kicks off a new series. I reviewed the book for the St. Petersburg Times. Click here to read, or see the full text below.

Legally Dead

By Edna Buchanan

Simon & Schuster, 358 pages, $26

“You people are a combination of Extreme Makeover, Mission: Impossible and CSI in reverse," Marian Pomeroy, an elderly philanthropist on the run from greedy offspring and unethical business associates, exclaims. That's a compliment, directed at the team about to end her life.

Legally Dead, the title of the latest from Miami crime writer Edna Buchanan, is a description of Marian's fate: On paper, she's gone, having suffered a fatal fall from a cruise ship, her corpse presumably lost at sea. Legally, she's strictly past tense. But later her face shows up on a woman with a different name living on the English seaside. There, the former Marian paints for pleasure, reads Robert Louis Stevenson to kids and meets friends at the local pub.

Marian is one of a half-dozen or so lost souls who call on former Federal Witness Protection Program agent Michael Venturi in this first entry in a new Buchanan series — her third, following the Britt Montero and Cold Case books. As crime franchise starters go, this one shoots a few too many blanks: Venturi isn't quite sympathetic or well developed enough to suggest that he will grip readers' attention over multiple novels, despite his good heart, good intentions and tragic backstory.

Venturi's initial makeovers and relocations are entertaining, but after a while the episodes begin to blur together. Particularly annoying is a womanizing rock star named Errol Flagg who wants to disappear because he can't handle the fame and the attendant groupies, paparazzi and drug-culture temptations. Why won't he quit? "The music biz is like the mob, you can't quit," says Danny, Venturi's ex-Marine pal.

The concept behind Legally Dead is intriguing enough, and the author's fans are sure to gravitate to this one, even if the particulars are less than thrilling. Perhaps next time, the execution will be more inspired.

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