Some books are made by narration, and this is true of Death and the Redheaded Woman. The book is uneven, and there are several points early on where I probably would have put it down had I been reading it to myself. As it was, Amanda Ronconi sold some of the extraordinarily awkward lines as genuine flirtation, and I got to enjoy the good parts of the book.
Death Bogart is a war veteran now working as a bounty hunter and a private detective. By the way, Death is named after Lord Peter Wimsy and his name is pronounced “Deeth”; no one mentions the aptness of his last name. Wren Morgan, the redheaded woman of the title, is an auctioneer and item evaluator. Then Wren finds a dead body on the floor of the house she is cataloging and Death comes into town to hunt for stolen jewels in the same house. It doesn’t take long before the two end up facing ruthless criminals who are after the jewels themselves and who think Death and Wren know where they are.
Props to Loretta Ross for a great opening line: “He was gorgeous, and he was naked but, unfortunately, he was dead” is absolutely an attention-grabber.
Things after that get a little rockier. In the first place, it’s hard not to notice that everyone agrees the dead man is gorgeous. Once the narration moves in to character point of view, I would expect most people to find that “corpse” outweighed “handsome” by a large amount.
That could be brushed aside as an oddity of the townspeople, but it is not the only awkward point. The relationship between Death and Wren is central to the book, and while it evolves satisfactorily, the early relationship is wince-worthy, and not in a way the text acknowledges. For example, he flirts with her by bringing up her homosexual ex-fiance and telling her that she knows he’s heterosexual because he is trying to look down her blouse. Ex-fiance comes up more than once, usually while Death is making some sexual reference. Wren never hits him and walk away. This and other early interactions would have lost me as a reader, but Ronconi managed to read the exchanges in a tone that conveyed actual mutual flirting, which made it easier to swallow. Incidentally, Ross establishes later that Wren and her ex are good friends now, and that he and Death get along beautifully. It is an odd have your cake and eat it to sort of maneuver.
Later in the book, the relationship between Wren and Death becomes more enjoyable: He is suffering from a lung injury in the past and cannot do all the physical work he used to do, so Wren ends up taking care of that. While he regrets not being able to fight himself, there is no point where he thinks Wren being able to is wrong or that her ability diminishes him. The two also work well in solving puzzles together.
The mystery itself is well put together, with different layers and pieces all coming together unexpectedly, but with things fairly laid out for the reader. It is tightly paced and definitely a “What happens next?” kind of book.
Death and the Redheaded Woman is a good mystery for those who like tension and romantic partnership but who do not mind early awkwardness in the flirtation.
Death and the Redheaded Woman is out now in multiple formats. Look for it on Amazon