To quote Lewis Carroll: "Calloo, callay, oh frabjous day!" No doubt Carroll, with his keen sense of the absurd, would find the publication of Tim Cockey's first novel positively frabjous indeed, an occasion for merriment and revelry.
Cockey is a kindred spirit to Janet Evanovich (Three to Get Deadly, Four to Score), an author with the rare gift of making riotously funny prose seem effortless, and to Elmore Leonard (Be Cool, Get Shorty), whose dialogue is casually and precisely evocative of the way "real people" speak. Heady company indeed for this new author, but The Hearse You Came in On deserves a special place in the screwball mystery pantheon: if you thought Evanovich was daring for creating a heroine who is a lingerie-salesperson-turned-bounty-hunter, you haven't met Hitchcock Sewell, the handsome undertaker who moonlights (reluctantly) as a sleuth.
Hitchcock is placidly enjoying life in Baltimore, "solemnly chaperoning the dead into their graves and pretty much otherwise minding my own business," when Carolyn James appears at the mortuary to inquire how much her own burial would cost. The next day, Carolyn reappears, but she isn't saying much now: suicide by asphyxiation has a way of eliminating small talk. The only problem is that Carolyn the Client is not the same woman as Carolyn the Cost-Conscious Consumer. When Hitch decides to pursue the shifting-identity issue, he meets Kate Zabriskie, a cop who wanted to protect Carolyn from a vicious boyfriend by faking her death; unfortunately, it seems Carolyn decided to play for real. Intent on proving that Carolyn's suicide was murder, Kate quickly embroils Hitch in a tangle of political blackmail and police corruption.
Bad enough that Hitch is caught in a murder investigation--but factor in his unwilling participation in a terrible amateur theater production, in which his costar is his "extremely gorgeous semi-nymphomaniac quasi-Buddhist and eternally charming ex-wife," and you have one cranky undertaker. Luckily for Hitch and for Cockey's readers, that crankiness is never enough to dim his razor-sharp powers of description and keen appreciation for his and others' quirks. Here he describes his former father-in-law, owner of the Screaming Oyster Saloon: "Frank is a tall crooked stick with an Adam's apple that rivals his nose, and a basset hound face that promises the end of life as we know it any minute now. Every mug he lands on the bar lands there with the heavy thud of finality. If you're in a good mood and you don't want to be, Frank's your man. He doesn't even have to speak, he'll simply open up that bleak vortex for you and down you go."
The Hearse You Came in On is a powerful debut; Cockey's next novel won't come a moment too soon for the readers who keep pausing to laugh out loud. --Kelly Flynn