Sunday, July 8, 2018
Last Call by Paula Matter: Reading Room Review
I received an advanced reader's copy of Last Call before I knew anything about it or the author, and then I started hearing/reading about its debut from other bloggers and sources. Its clever word play description from the publisher, with phrases such as "she'll be serving time instead of drinks" and "before she ends up behind the wrong kind of bars" indicated to me that this book is one I wanted to read. Even the title is a witty word play. I do so love finding a talented new author and a gem of a book I hadn't realized was waiting for me. Last Call is that debut that heralds great storytelling from a source with much more to come. Paula Matter (Matter rhymes with otter) has arrived on the mystery/crime scene with her first novel in the Maggie Lewis Mystery series to the delight of all who enjoy their sleuths as down-to-earth amateurs with a good dose of derring-do.
At 46 years old, Maggie Lewis is trying to just stay the course. It's been two years since her husband Rob was murdered, and she's struggling to hold on and wishing she could go a day without crying. Paying her bills is a matter of Russian roulette, and even with taking on a tenant for half of her Victorian duplex that she and Rob were renovating and working as a bartender at the local VFW, Maggie seems to be fighting an uphill battle. Not that she is just a weepy, sad figure. Maggie is a scrapper, and if grit and determination mean anything, she will be a survivor. But, it's a precarious situation, and she needs everything to remain constant to move forward. The VFW job is a major deal in her effort to keep it together financially. Having worked as bartender there for five years, since she and Rob moved from Miami to North DeSoto in northern Florida, Maggie is familiar with the rules and regulations of the VFW and the regular customers, some who are pains in the behind. One of the rear pains, a Korean War veteran named Jack Hoffman, is found murdered in his truck outside the VFW the morning after Maggie finally had a night off. Maggie immediately is suspected due to something found at the scene, and those in charge suspend her from her job. Desperate to prove her innocence and return to work, Maggie enlists the aid of her tenant Michael, who just happens to be a former cop from Pennsylvania waiting on his private investigator license.
There are quite a few aspects of this novel that make it work for me, providing a great read and a new series to look forward to. Paula Matter was right on target with her presentation of the VFW, its atmosphere, its activities, and how much it can mean to some veterans who need a touchstone in their lives, a place to see familiar faces who have shared their experiences. She even got the smoking that is allowed at the bar right. From personal observation, I felt Matter captured the spirit and atmosphere of this place, and the authenticity was crucial to the story's success. The best part of the story though was Maggie herself, a character that I grew fond of from the very beginning. She may seem a mess at first glance, and she might very well be, but she is a wonderful work in progress, a character with wit and tenacity and a growing desire to work through her heartaches. Supporting characters of her friends Michael and Brenda add strength to the meaning of second chances and better days. And, I enjoyed the Southern flavor of the story, with Matter's succinct, but humorous inclusions, such as the correct Southern pronunciation of the expletive "shit." I won't spoil it for you if you don't know. Look for it in the book. The story was just a read that I thoroughly enjoyed. I eagerly await the next installment in the series.
I was given an ARC of this book by Midnight Ink, and my review is based solely on my personal opinion.