Thursday, June 07, 2012

Popcorn Alert: Have You Been Naughty?

wow...ok, that title makes it sound like I am going to be reviewing that Fifty Shade of Gray that everyone is reading right now...let's rewind, shall we...

My summer vacation just started.  After a year full of students and grading and assessment and assessment and assessment (see a pattern here...) I have several weeks to recharge my batteries and renew my love of popcorn books.  For those of you who have not heard me describe popcorn books before, that's what I call books that are lacking in substance but oddly satisfying-just like popcorn.

My first popcorn read of the summer was Meg Gardiner's The Dirty Secret's Club.  Since mysteries and thriller are my favorite popcorn (consider them the cheddar/caramel mix of popcorn books), I was happy to delve into the world of Jo Beckett, Gardiner's latest character creation.  Jo is a forensic psychiatrist.  In other words, she is called in not to figure out how someone died, but rather why they died.  In cases of equivocal death (in other words, a death with no clear motive), it's her job to investigate the person's life and determine whether the death was an accident, suicide, or murder.

Her first case involved a series of apparent muder/suicides taking place in and around San Francisco.  A high-powered attorney was involved in a high-speed chase with police, ending in her car going over the side of a bridge and into the traffic speeding below.  Jo is called in by the police to determine why a successful woman who seemingly had it all would drive her car over a metaphorical cliff to her death, taking her passenger and three bystanders with her.  Jo soon discovers that the beautiful prosecutor was hiding a secret-in fact, that she belonged to a group of people who all had shameful secrets.  The Dirty Secrets Club arranged dares for people-dangerous acts that would either allow them to assuage their guilt over their secret, or let them feed their egos for the shameful, sometimes criminal things they had done.  Now it appeared that someone was targeting group members, and Jo needed to discover who was behind the murders in order to stop others from being killed.

There are no real surprises in the structure of the novel.  Female investigator plus tragic past plus complicated relationship with unapproachable/inappropriate man pretty much describes the work of many authors in this genre.  But I don't read popcorn books because I want to have to think-I read them for escapist enjoyment.  And this book provided that in spades.  Gardiner did a good job of pacing the action of the story so that I was engaged the whole time, and the characters are likable enough.  The plot description makes it sound like the reader will be dragged into some seedy underworld of sex and violence, but while the members of the Dirty Secret's Club do have terrible secrets in their past, Gardiner doesn't dwell on the specifics enough for you to come away feeling like you need a shower after.  I look forward to more installments in the life of Jo Beckett, with more psychological mysteries to solve.


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