From its chartreuse, turquoise, and gold cover to the crossword puzzle at the back of the book, Mummy’s the Word is no ordinary novel. Heroine Samantha Shade isn’t exactly an ordinary character either. And Nightshade is no run-of-the-mill private investigator business.
Samantha (Sam) is left in charge of her uncle’s detective agency, Nightshade, while he takes a three week vacation to Europe. Unlike most businesses, this one’s regular office hours are nine to five during the night The understanding is that if Sam does well, she’ll become the new CEO of the family business; if she doesn’t, the agency will be sold and Sam will have to go to work for the other family business, Shady Acres, a convalescent facility for the elderly. Sam is much more interested in solving mysteries than in emptying bedpans.
Sam has always wanted to right wrongs and save the world. She’d like nothing better than to have super powers so she can serve and rescue the downtrodden in super ways. Since she has no way of being bitten by a radioactive spider or learning to fly, she figures being a private detective is the next best thing.
She loves her uncle’s office, from the pseudo-electric chair to the raven, Quoth, who perches high overhead. Her fellow investigators are competent professionals in spite of their names, appearances, and eccentricities. Her cousin, Chaiya, answers phones and does general office work, in spite of an interesting tendency to say almost the right word, creating delightful malapropisms. Chaiya is also Sam’s roommate, though not her only roommate. There’s also Wendela, a former mental hospital patient who came from the stars. Exactly how she became Sam’s roommate is something the reader will have to discover on his/her own. Sam has an interesting younger brother, too, who, like bats and Nightshade Detectives, is nocturnal.
The story begins with a stakeout that goes terribly wrong and the introduction of Thom Casey, a policeman who attracts trouble the way rotten apples attract flies. Sam’s camera and evidence are confiscated, her client is furious, and a new client appears offering her agency the opportunity to guard a mummy. The mummy disappears and life gets more than interesting for the Nightshade detectives. Along with problems with the Phoenix police department, a feud develops between Sam and a night-time radio host who specializes in UFOlogy.
Like most good books, this one contains a bit of romance for spice, but it mainly features a plethora of mysteries, like where is the teenage street urchin both Sam and Thom are searching for? Who stole the mummy and how did they manage to get it out of Lord Herbert’s mansion? Where did Wendela come from? Who went to a lot of trouble to switch film in Sam’s camera? Why does Sam keep stumbling over the obnoxious UFO radio announcer? And who is trying to kill Thom?
The odd happenings, people, and situations in this book are handled well, without a loss of character or by asking the reader to suspend belief too far. Sam’s eleven-year-old brother is a perfect example. He suffers from xeroderma pigmentosum, a real light sensitive malady that requires him to avoid sunlight or any kind of bright light, yet he’s a perfectly normal, somewhat precocious preteen who fits in perfectly in a family that sleeps all day and works at night. A favorite line appears on page 168, when Sam looks down at her black jeans, black silk T, leather jacket, and steel-toed boots and wonders if it is time to update her wardrobe. After all, I wear the same thing on stakeouts that I do to Enrichment Nights, and probably look equally ridiculous both places.
Along with a plot filled with unexpected twists and turns and a lot of humor, Blair provides the reader a bonus in the form of some exciting word play, including a bit of clever barding (borrowing phrases from Shakespeare to form dialog). Clues to solving the mysteries appear in words that sound almost right, but have meanings far from the character’s intended meaning, phrases and names from dozens of literary classics, mythology, and a few movies. There’s even a crossword puzzle at the end of the book that can be worked out along the way or all at once at the end of the book. Blair’s sense of humor will keep readers laughing, the suspense will create more than a few chills, the clever use of words will please any wordsmith, but the interwoven mysteries and puzzles set this book apart as truly unique.
Mummy’s the Word is only the first in a series of Nightshade adventures. I can hardly wait for the next one.
Published by Covenant Communications, 285 pages, $18.95