Reviewed by Donna Meredith
If you enjoy a mystery with a strong injection of humor, you should pick up a copy of Valentine’s Day by April Kelly. With a tone that evokes the best writing of Janet Evanovich, Kelly gifts mystery fans with newly minted private investigator Rick Valentine, a slightly more competent and sexually active take on Stephanie Plum.
Initially, Rick might appear to be a total schmuck when his first client manages to frame him for a homicide in broad daylight at a Renaissance Faire. Fortunately, Rick’s former boss and top LA investigator, Dako Farona, vouches for him. Once set free from jail, Rick is determined to chase down the identity of the murderer—and the new PI turns out to be far cleverer than he first seems.
But clients aren’t exactly queuing at Rick’s door, so to pay his bills, he accepts leftovers from Farona, those cases deemed less important, less interesting, and less likely to pad the bank account significantly. One case, however, proves intriguing when Rick discovers links to his own father, a police officer killed in action while Rick was still in kindergarten. Three years after his father’s death, Rick’s mother committed suicide, forcing Rick into the care of a loving foster family. Now Rick wants answers. What really happened to his parents?
One officer present at the botched raid that resulted in the death of Rick’s father was Grant Tenninger, a man who later rose in power to become Chief of Police. As Rick digs deeper, he discovers that, even though Tenninger and Hank Bledsoe are running against each other for mayor, they are partners in an offshore company that owns a huge hunk of wetlands. Smelling more than a hint of corruption, Rick finds himself pitted against two of the richest, most powerful men in LA.
Several characters offer Rick support in his quest. The Sutterman twins, his octogenarian landladies, are movie-industry insiders whose skills with make-up and special effects prove useful in deceiving the bad guys. They also destroy any illusions Rick has that all old ladies sit drinking tea like his foster grandmother: “Bitsy and Kitty expunged [his] misconception . . . with all the gentle finesse of Darth Vader chopping off Luke Skywalker’s hand.” They drink scotch, wear short skirts, dance, and groove to rock and roll as easily as Sinatra.
Another character who proves invaluable to Rick is Dako’s daughter Rexanne.
The 20-year-old manages to annoy the hell out of him most of the time even while she finesses some wild stunt to help him.
Every mystery needs a little romance. Enter Piper, the sexy blonde actress, a woman with more depth and character than any Rick has thus far encountered. All too often, their encounters are delayed by his work or hers. Misinterpretation of each other’s behavior complicates their budding relationship.
Kelly turns her background in television as both writer and producer into a powerful asset. The novel’s LA/movie-industry atmosphere feels natural and intrinsic to the action, rather than the forced cliché of many cop shows set in the City of Angels.
Another weapon in Kelly’s arsenal is Rick’s sparkling internal monologue. He slings snarky barbs with deadly accuracy guaranteed to leave you laughing. Kelly’s use of powerful verbs and up-to-date slang suits the youthful characters.
Rick Valentine is sure to garner fans who will anxiously await the second book in the series, Not Funny, Valentine! Its release is slated for December 2016.
Kelly also co-authored an award-winning mystery series with Marsha Lyons, including Murder In One Take, Murder: Take Two; and Murder: Take Three. Kelly’s first novel was the award-winning literary fantasy Winged.
Nominated for Emmy awards for both writing and producing, Kelly was a writer for Mork & Mindy. She also wrote and produced Love, Sidney, the first prime-time comedy featuring an openly gay lead character. She co-created Boy Meets World, which ran on ABC from 1993 to 2000, and was co-executive producer for the first season. She wrote for the TV series Becker and Happy Days, and wrote and produced 9 To 5, Teachers Only, and Webster. She lives in Tennessee with her two dogs.