Mad as the Dickens
A Laura Fleming Mystery
By Toni L.P. Kelner
Kensington Books - Oct. 2001
ISBN: 1575668386 - Hardcover
Mystery / Amateur Sleuth

Reviewed by Brenda Weeaks, MyShelf.Com
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It's almost Christmas and Laura is back in Bryerly, North Carolina. She and Richard live in Boston where he is a professor of Shakespeare. One of Laura's relatives asked Richard to come and direct "A Christmas Carol," but with the bad rehearsals and practical jokes, they know this is not going to be an easy task. Richard, adamant about directing, is willing to suffer through to make it work, but the choice is taken out of his hands when Seth (Scrooge) is found dead during a rehearsal.

Junior, Laura's cousin, is the Chief of Police. The council and Junior's mother have taken her off the case so she can use up accrued vacation time. Junior is worried that Deputy Mark will mess up, so she and the other women in Laura's family talk Laura into investigating Seth's murder. Junior thinks she knows why Seth died and that it may go back as far as when her father was Chief. It's a season of murder and mayhem for Laura's hometown.

One knows better than to jump into the middle of a series for a couple of reasons. (This is the seventh in Kelner's series.) One would be the characters -- they are most likely developed and the writer doesn't always backtrack concerning them. The other is possible confusion concerning the mystery itself.

Both are why I came away from "Mad as the Dickens" with the strong opinion that this series should be read from the beginning. First, the many characters overwhelmed me: lots of names, few explanations. Also, trying to focus on the mystery was confusing. Missing explanations and numbered spoilers directing me to footnotes listing past titles were too distracting. The author clarified some things, such as why Junior was given a boy's name, but it wasn't enough and the spoilers seemed like too much.

Don't misunderstand me, though. I came away with the feeling that this is a series worth reading from the beginning. I enjoyed Kelner's characters, and although the plot was not a spellbinder or the mystery a conundrum, it was good. If I had gone into this mystery as a series follower, I know I would have enjoyed it even more and that is why I am recommending it.

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