Mad, Bad and Dead, Sherryl Clark
If you're new to the Judi Westerholme series, it's one of those featuring a slightly older, marginally wiser, female character who's in too deep and doing the two steps forward, one step dance that quite a few of us might recognise. It's a great series, with a believable, slightly manic central character that's keeping her head above water by sheer willpower and, some would say, the slightly delusional idea that she alone will just have to sort it out.
Which, to be fair, she's good at. In many ways. The series started out with TRUST ME, I'M DEAD, then DEAD AND GONE, and now this is the third novel MAD, BAD AND DEAD. Along the way Westerholme's gone from living a quiet, reflective rural lifestyle to sole carer for her infant niece Mia (the first novel explains the background to that). She's also now the part-owner of a country pub that is enough of a trial to put anybody off the idea of running a similar establishment (the second novel explains how that happened). Plus she's now got a sort of on-again / off-again / are they in a relationship or not thing with Melbourne based cop Ben Heath (all of the novels tiptoe around in that minefield). All of which sounds like it could be a bit overblown but it's really not.
For a series that's so strong on the character development side, the plots are also good. In MAD, BAD AND DEAD, threatening phone calls are followed by the shooting death of an employee at the pub. Whilst Judie and her chef, business partner and friend Andre, and local cop Connor find out what they don't know about Kate, they are also looking for her daughter Emma, who disappeared the night her mother was killed. All the while, she's trying to keep a handle on Mia's relationship with her maternal grandparents (Mia's the daughter of her Judi's now dead brother); whatever's going on with her own relationship with Ben; her dying estranged mother, and a business that's teetering on the edge of financial catastrophe that may, or may not be, impacted by whatever reason Kate was killed. It's all a bit of a mess, and there's a lot of things to juggle as Judi finally seems to be close to breaking point.
Delivered at a cracking pace, with a wonderful sense of dry, down-to-earth humour, this is a terrific series with a central character who is less super-woman and more waving woman about knee deep in, with spades of determination and heart. Readers who are new to the series could probably jump in at any time, especially as a lot of the aspects of Judi's life are treated as givens, as opposed to things that need a heap of explaining. Having said that, like any series as character based as this one is, it would be best to start at the start, which shouldn't be a trial for anyone who likes crime fiction which is part caper, part accidental investigator, part mayhem with a dash of something that's less romance, more confused attraction.
A dead employee. A missing child. Anonymous phone calls in the dead of night. Judi Westerholme's troubles aren't over...
Already struggling to juggle co-running Candlebark's pub/bistro along with her new childcare responsibilities, what Judi doesn't need right now is more stress. Yet, as usual, it arrives in spades: she starts receiving threatening, late night phone calls before discovering one of her best employees, Kate, shot dead in her bed.
Once again, Judi finds herself at the center of a murder investigation, as well as the hunt for the Kate's fourteen year-old daughter who has been missing since the murder. Add in the uncertainty of her relationship with D.S. Heath and the fact that her estranged mother's nursing home keeps calling to urge her to visit, and Judi might finally be at breaking point.