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Book Review: Murder at the Bad Girl’s Bar and Grill by N.M. Kelby

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What do you get when you mix a little magic realism, some riotously funny dialogue that gives Carl Hiaasen a run for his money and characters you really care about and would love to see turn up in a whole bunch of sequels? You get the perfect winter read, a book that could serve as a substitute for a vacation in these troubled economic times, a great antidote to Seasonal Affective Disorder, and the absolutely best holiday gift for anyone you can think of – and I mean anyone. How’s that for dispatching a whole bunch of things off the old to-do list?

N.M. Kelby, who has also published three other novels to very good reviews (that now I shall have to click on amazon.com and buy) has in Murder at the Bad Girl’s Bar and Grill written a mystery novel with a series of twists that manages to be nearly unputdownable. Her “hero” is a reject from the FBI now living and working as a security guard in a planned community called Laguna Key, Florida, which, as one character says “If it weren’t for the hordes of vultures, bats, stingrays, alligators, rats, sharks, jellyfish, fire ants, hissing roaches, poisonous spiders, and several kinds of snakes (both poisonous and nonpoisonous), and if weren’t for the seasonal onslaught of red tide, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, and the occasional earthquake … would be absolutely perfect.”

Also living in this wonderland is a newly blind heiress with a crazy father and a husband who may well want to kill her, a failed horror movie queen with a superlative scream (and owner of said Bad Girl’s Bar and Girl), a Barry Manilow impersonator, a bunch of residents of Laguna Key’s condos who like to dress up as characters out of the Andy Griffith Show, and some very odd animals and birds. And into their midst comes a mysterious puppeteer who is somewhat out of this world. He brings with him twin Swedish surfers of an indeterminate age; and he’s looking for his long lost brother, a homeless man who may or may not have been somehow responsible for the blindness of the heiress. And who may or may not even be dead.

To give any more away would just confuse the issue. And ruin the pleasure. Or confuse the pleasure and ruin the issue. Whatever. Suffice it to say that N.M. Kelby manages to sustain a complicated plot, a host of winning characters, hysterically funny and philosophically sophisticated dialogue, and beautifully rendered musings on art, life, and Florida’s ecosystem, while thoroughly entertaining the reader every step of the way.
Buy this book. You won’t be sorry.

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