In Later Gator, the ninth book in Jana DeLeon’s Miss Fortune mystery series, Fortune opens the book by debating her options for the future, in particular what kind of career she should pursue now that she has decided to leave the CIA after the price on her head has been lifted. She is intrigued by Ida Belle’s suggestion of becoming a private investigator so decides to practice her potential new career. She begins by starting with Deputy Carter’s recent case of an alligator poacher who does not behave like either a local or a professional. This poacher goes for only small gators and acts sometimes during the day, both unusual activities for a poacher. While flying around the local bayous in Fortune’s air boat, Ida Belle and Fortune get cut off by an arrogant Fish and Game warden, who takes out his annoyance at them by demanding to inspect their boat. He obviously is looking for poached alligator, thus making it clear that Carter has not been successful at keeping the poaching problem a local issue. Then the Fish and Game official drags Petey Hebert into the jail, ordering Carter to keep him locked up as the poacher. The problem? This cousin of Gertie’s is deeply disturbed and clearly incapable of committing this crime.
Even though Carter would like to release the boy to his father’s custody, Celia, the mayor, is so eager to find an excuse to fire Carter that he doesn’t dare let the boy go or even let his father stay with him in the jail. So Fortune helps out Quincy, Petey’s father, by suggesting he grab her in order to get arrested. Then when she needs to talk to the pair, since Celia and her minions are standing guard at the entrance to the police station, she merely gets Carter’s uncle, Walter, to carry her into the police station in a crate. At this point she deftly escapes from the crate in her ninja fashion, climbs up into the ceiling, and flips into the storage room where Carter is keeping Petey and Quincy. Getting out isn’t nearly as simple, but it’s a whole lot of laughs.
In the meantime, Gertie has been very secretive lately, disappearing frequently to go fishing. But no one knows exactly what she has been up to, especially when Ida Belle and Fortune spot her waving a fish over the water. But they soon learn when, the next day, they get 911 texts from Gertie to show up at her house. Fortune shows up but can’t find Gertie. However, she does find someone else in her guest bathroom: a small alligator (or at least small for an alligator). The reptile breaks down the bathroom door in its chase after Fortune and follows her outside, but not in time to catch her before she swiftly does her Olympic gymnastic moves to ascend the big tree in Gertie’s yard. As Fortune gets ready to shoot the gator, Gertie thrusts herself into the fray to save her beloved friend Godzilla. Yes, Gertie, in her craziness, has captured an alligator with a pair of pants jerry-rigged as a sling, taken it (her) home, and put it in her bathtub because she is afraid of the poacher’s killing it. And she is now cooking it a rotten fish casserole because Godzilla loves baked goods. But Fortune and Ida Belle work to convince Gertie to return Godzilla to the water, an effort encouraged by Carter’s showing up and pointing out that if she doesn’t get it back in the water right away, he will be forced to shoot the beast.
The rest of the book continues along the same lines with more investigation, and of course a trip to the Swamp Bar, which lives up to its name in quality. It contains the same humor as the other books and made me laugh really hard.
I found it interesting that the language was much cleaner than in the previous books. Only a couple times did I notice curse words, which were said only by a particularly crude character. Previous books used language that make the books hover close to the extreme of what is allowed in cozy mysteries, which by definition are PG-rated, maybe PG-13.
I found another detail about this book especially intriguing. Out of the hundreds of mystery books I’ve read, each contains a murder and usually multiple ones. But this book manages to succeed as a fascinating mystery with no murder and the crime’s being alligator poaching, a very regional issue that most readers will have had no personal connection to. Usually books need a murder case in order to create a strong enough feeling of empathy or fear to immerse the reader in the story. That DeLeon succeeds in getting us invested in the mystery testifies to her skill as a storyteller. Her ability to make me shake my bed so much with laughter while reading that I woke up my sleeping husband certainly helps in enticing readers.
For the first eight books of this series, I listened to the reading by Cassandra Campbell available on Audible. But the author is still in negotiations with Audible to have this book published in audio, and I just couldn’t wait for months for the audio version to be released. As much as I enjoyed getting to read the book, I really missed getting to hear Campbell read the book to me. I could hear her voice in my head, but I still wished I could listen to the book. Having to read this for myself proved to me just how excellent Campbell’s narration is. I look forward to the book’s release on audio someday.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading Later Gator. This book has a fascinating mystery plot that really drew me to the story. In addition, the humor kept me laughing all the way through. This book lives up to the quality of the previous books in the series. I give it five stars!
Update: The book has been released on audio now, and Campbell does a wonderful job as always. She uses excellent accents, such as “Yankee” for the narrator Fortune, but different degrees of Southern, educated and less educated, for the different characters. Further, she is a real master of timing and humor as she reads this hilarious book.
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