Christmas festivities and family bonding provide the backdrop in this seventh mystery featuring cleaning service owner-operator Callahan Garrity. While Callahan and her mother Edna are busy preparing trifle and a potent Garrity version of eggnog for their annual Christmas bash, Callahan's youngest brother, Brian, appears after a 10-year absence. Edna is thrilled, both with Brian and with the granddaughter he has presented; Callahan is more dubious, particularly when it becomes clear that her brother has been in town for well over a year and that he has taken the 3-year-old Maura without her mother's permission. Callahan, with pressure from Edna, agrees to help Brian fight the custody battle against his ex, but things only get more complicated once the woman is found stabbed to death. Police, not surprisingly, put Brian at the top of their list of likely suspects. After all, if he is willing to commit one felony by kidnapping his daughter, what's to prevent him from murdering her mother?
Despite overtones of O.J.--Brian is also accused of occasionally resorting to violence--there is much to enjoy here: Edna's toilet-training philosophy, Maura's precociousness, and the suburban South's peculiar social dimensions (just what constitutes white trash, anyway?) provide much to chuckle over. Callahan and her band of merry mop-bearers take on the police, Brian's mother-in-law, and even Brian himself to demonstrate his innocence so that he can stay out of jail and secure custody. Callahan is an admirable and entertaining heroine. Kathy Hogan Trocheck has a lighter touch than Sarah Paretsky or Sue Grafton, and Callahan is rarely as unforgivably foolhardy as counterparts V.I. Warshawski or Kinsey Milhone can be. With Callahan and her more charming relations at the novel's heart, Midnight Clear offers jolly holiday reading with both poignant and hilarious moments. --K. Crouch [via]