I don't often get the chance to review a book--because I don't often get the chance to read! But today I am excited to write about Dershie McDevitt's wonderful "cozy," entitled Just Holler Bloody Murder. A "cozy," for those of you who, like me, have not heard that term before, is basically a beach read-- in this case, a mystery with no graphic, horrible details but with a love story thrown in for fun! Before I get started, let me just tell you that this is Dershie's first published novel, and Dershie is 70 years old, so, Dershie, Oops50 salutes you!!!
This fun and suspenseful book, set on 'Timicau Island (modeled on Dewees in South Carolina), begins with a woman's return to the beach house where she was raised by her single mother. Hoping to find some peace and come to terms with her mother's recent death, the protagonist, Callahan Banks, finds her vision of tranquility shattered by two murders, with the possibility of other murders looming on her beloved island.
Here is what I love about this book:
1) It is full of interesting, intelligent characters, especially Callahan, who has a wealth of knowledge about the natural world and a tough, take-no-prisoners approach to life, to the suave Southern-gentleman, Pepper Dade, who may or may not have played a part in the murders, to the brilliant child prodigy, Harry Applegate, who teaches her a thing or two about how to protect yourself in the face of danger. I might even include the island itself in this list, since it plays such an important role, not just as a fascinating setting for the book but as an active participant in the story. And, let's not exclude another captivating character, Albert the alligator, who resides on the inland pond right below Callahan's house. The suspense will grip you right until the end, when the pieces fall into place, and you are not entirely sure that our main character is going to survive because you have no clear idea where the most danger lies.
2) It combines murder and romance, which is a fun combination for an enjoyable read.
3) The writing is excellent. Lots of people can write a story that combines murder and romance. Very few can carry it off with as much aplomb as Dersie McDevitt does. Here's an example: "Still, she has the unnerving impression that she may be like a lab frog dumbly languishing in a pot of cool water over a low flame, while someone--she doesn't know who--patiently waits for the water to heat up and begin to boil." Or this description by Callahan of Pepper Dade's effect on her: "The man's so all-consuming I lose the capacity to be the main character in my life every time he comes around."
4) It is full of wonderful, interesting, new information about the natural world. How's this passage, for an example, where Callahan tells nine year old Harry that seagulls "have specialized glands called nasal glands over their eyes, with ducts that lead to their nostrils. When they get too much salt in their bodies, they produce nasal fluid to drain it out. So sometimes, their noses run, and sometimes, they simply sneeze it out."
And there's not much I didn't like about the book--except maybe that a few of the minor characters, such as Vi or Mrs. Pasquini, could have been a little more fleshed out--and that I would have liked it to keep going a little longer, with one more murder! But I think that last concern shows how much I enjoyed reading the book: I was just getting completely creeped out and caught up in the suspense, when everything got solved, and the book ended. I wasn't quite ready!
In summary: I highly recommend this book to anyone looking to curl up and read, read, read! And, I encourage you to go to Dershie's reading of Just Holler on Sunday, March 10th at 3 p.m. (and remember to set your clocks forward that weekend!) at Asheville's own independent bookseller, Malaprop's Bookstore/Cafe at 55 Haywood Street.
Here are some quick facts to help with background for the book:
Dershie lives in Asheville with her "first and second husbands and two Wheaton terriers." (She says she has had "the good fortune to marry the same man twice.") The couple vacations on Dewees--and they both love the island. Dershie was raised in northern Wyoming, where she acquired her love of nature. Dershie's first novel (unpublished) was her master's thesis for her graduate degree from UNCA. She has been an active participant of an "incredibly supportive" writers' group under the direction of writer P.B. Parris for 19 years, a group that has seen this novel from its earliest stages to publication--and has its own writing group cat, Gracie, "who inspires us all.
The couple's beach house is the one pictured on the front of the book.
Dershie is now working on a sequel to the book.
Albert is a real gator.
More from entertainment