Cass Tuplin has returned in second book DEAD MEN DON'T ORDER FLAKE. Proprietor of the recently rebuilt Rusty Bore Takeway, she's a fish, chip and dim sim dispenser extraordinaire with a sideline in private enquiries. Which means she's one of those slightly nosy women who can find out stuff, despite objections from her eldest son, and local Senior Constable, Dean. Her propensity to dig until dirt moves out of the way is part of the reason why a local father, Gary Kellett, asks her to look further into the death of his only daughter. Natalie was a journalist in the "big town up the road" Muddy Soak, and her death in a car accident at a notorious traffic blackspot was put down to poor driving, until Cass starts looking around, and Dean starts getting a bit huffy about the question marks over police conclusions.
Now you'd expect that an investigation like that would ruffle a few local feathers - not just Dean's - but Cass has the state of her own plumage to worry about as well. The return of presumed-dead, teenage heart-throb, and previous romantic interest is causing mild interest in lots of places. When Leo Stone casually wanders into the Rusty Bore Takeaway, acting like his twenty year disappearing act, and the headstone in the cemetery (incidentally organised by Cass) are just a blip in the timeline of their shared attraction, the questions over where he's actually been and what he's been up to fight for prominence with the questions about that car accident. To say nothing of what happened to a watch that went missing many years before.
Needless to say, if you hadn't worked it out from the blurb, this is a humorous, on the eccentric / cosy side, Australian rural series, set somewhere fictional in the Wimmera / Mallee of Victoria (in other words just up the road), populated by a mildly dotty crowd of locals with a track record (after two books) of death and destruction that is starting to feel like it could give Midsomer Murders a run for their money.
Told from Cass's viewpoint, the first book in the series, MURDER WITH THE LOT, did for self-deprecating humour what over-salting takeaway chips can do, but the balance in the second book is much better. There's still plenty of one-liners and a lot of wry observations, but they don't hold up advancement of plot, and Cass doesn't come across as quite the flake (pun only slightly intended) that she might have in the earlier novel. As with the earlier book, the investigation is only part of life - it goes up against the ongoing business workload, the problems with maintaining good relationships with two sons and their love interests, offers of more than friendship from the other shop-owner in town, and the need to be there for the older members of the community. And the long-lost love interest, now unencumbered by fiancé's, husbands, potential mothers-in-law, and the daftness of youth.
The plot here is good - with interwoven elements between the present and the past nicely held together with a combination of believability and local involvement to support that. There's also some good old fashioned motivations behind a lot of actions - money, power, prestige - human nature being what it is regardless of size of location. Lovers of dogs might also want to be aware that all's not well in that department, although a supporting cast of ferrets fare considerably better.
DEAD MEN DON'T ORDER FLAKE obviously comes from the entertaining side of crime fiction. It's central character is one of those women of a certain age, unencumbered by the constraints of expectation and "rules of behaviour" that age, experience and a certain level of "who gives a..." provides, eventually, to us all. The only downside to DEAD MEN DON'T ORDER FLAKE is personal as there are fish and chip shops in small Mallee towns that I have a lot of trouble going into without a bit of a giggle. Luckily last time I was in one, the bloke behind the counter didn't have red hair, and didn't have the slightest idea what I was laughing about.