Don’t Monkey With Barbara

Take the Monkeys and Run by Karen Cantwell could be described as a coming of age novel, if your age is forty-five, it’s your birthday, you have forgotten to place money under the pillow of a daughter who has just lost a tooth, and there are several monkeys in your backyard. This is an age you might look forward to looking back on. This is Book One of a Barbara Marr Murder Mystery series which is available in a four-book collection. I bought only Book One for the Amazon price of USD 0.00. Described as a novel with lots of humor, I relied on the title’s promise of that; I felt the title ridiculous (in a good way). This is also described as a cozy mystery. I don’t know the definition of “cozy mystery,” so I will use this novel to construct my definition.

I am a fan of catchy first lines. I liked this one: “The sky was black, my toes were numb and I was a lunatic.” (p.1). Barbara was going exploring at night to spy on activities in a neighboring house. Police have a term for this criminal offense, “Peeping Tom,” and she had been warned by organized crime figures and long-term residents of her neighborhood to stay away from the house if she valued her life but no implied consequences managed to blunt her curiosity.

This story might displease animal rights activists. PETA even has a central role in the plot. Any group doing medical experimentation with animals gets a bad rap whether the experimentation is careful in its treatment of animals or not. Portrayals of the Mafia will offend Italian Americans. The group in this story makes the Sopranos look like the academia of crime. Bumbling and ill-considered actions by female characters will offend feminists. This novel may have something to offend everyone. None of the items in this paragraph bother me. But there is something that led me to give this novel only three stars.

There is humor in the portrayal of many characters. Barbara’s witticisms expressed in dialogue are the best of all the characters except for two points. First, Barbara occasionally makes outrageous comparisons that are clever but appear to be forced humor. Second, there is a point when action scenes become paramount and humor either entirely disappears (which I find logical) or it just doesn’t fit. There is humor that occurs in life-threatening situations but is “dark” or “black” humor, not a type designed to amuse.

There is at least one big surprise at the end which would work well in a different type of novel. As I read the book I was looking for comedy, funny stuff, and clever wordplay. Somewhere in the middle of the novel, this story lost it and I just continued to read to see if there would be a recovery. There wasn’t.

To solve my own puzzle, the question of how to define a “cozy” mystery, I come up with the following. It is a mystery with understated but implied violence and almost zero sex. I am sure that there are books that can be interesting without those two elements. In this novel, the only sex is in the bland imaginings of Barbara. A novel in which hitmen are dealing out revenge and betrayal

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