Bridget Jones meets Harry Dresden
My mother used to buy Nancy Drew books for my sisters and me. Nancy was just so… nice. Wholesome. Predictable. We hated her. In each book she would get knocked out and then skip up to solve The Clue of the Hotel Charges on His Credit Card or The Secret of The Twisted Sister-Wives.
Then when I was ten, I had to stay home from school with strep throat. A fairly spectacular reaction to penicillin meant I was on the less-than-effective antibiotic substitute, and the doctor said to keep my germ-ridden self away from my siblings. Since my Irish-Catholic mother had already produced six of those siblings—with another on the way—that meant she stashed me in her room with the side-by-side twin beds in approved fifties ain’t-no-sex-goin-on-here-nohow culture. (As their child-production count eventually topped out at ten, I never really quite got the point of those twin beds. Once, when I asked her, my mother said I should just be glad I didn’t have twice as many siblings. I said if that was the case, she should have thought about moving that other twin bed to a different room. In another state…)
But I digress. The point (of course I have one—I’m a professional writer. Don’t try this at home…) is that her bed had a bookshelf headboard which held her latest mystery books, currently all by Agatha Christie. So I read the (still socially-inappropriately titled) Ten Little Indians. Huh. Didn’t see that ending coming. I picked up another one, starring an unlikely sleuth—a little old lady named Miss Marple, who investigates When a Murder is Announced.
And that was it. My little California-based soul was hooked: on witty mysteries with literate British amateur sleuths, on fabulous British settings, on fantastic BBC productions, and most definitely on Dame Agatha and then Dorothy L. Sayers. Who needs Nancy Drew when you’ve got Harriet Vane—intellectual, feminist, crime solving partner to Lord Peter Wimsey?
Then a few years ago, another detective came on the scene—Harry Dresden, Wizard and consulting detective. Urban fantasy detective? Hell, yeah!
There was only one more place to go, and this week’s guest, David Ahern, took me there with his new cozy urban fantasy mystery story, Madam Tulip.
Blurb: Madam Tulip by David Ahern
Close your eyes. It might not happen…
Suspense, mystery, action, a little romance and lots of laughs.
Out-of-work actress Derry O’Donnell is young, talented, a teeny bit psychic … and broke. Spurred on by an ultimatum from her awesomely high-achieving mother, and with a little help from her theatrical friends, Derry embarks on a part-time career as Madame Tulip, fortune-teller to the rich and famous. But at her first fortune-telling gig – a celebrity charity weekend in a castle – a famous rap artist will die.
As Derry is drawn deeper into a seedy world of celebrities, supermodels and millionaires, she finds herself playing the most dangerous role of her acting life. Trapped in a maze of intrigue, money and drugs, Derry’s attempts at amateur detective could soon destroy her friends, her ex-lover, her father and herself.
Madame Tulip is the first in a series of Tulip adventures in which Derry O’Donnell, celebrity fortune-teller and reluctant detective, plays the most exciting and perilous roles of her acting life, drinks borage tea, and fails to understand her parents.
Fans of humorous mystery writers Janet Evanovich and Carl Hiaasen will love Madam Tulip.
- Book Title: Madam Tulip
- Author: David Ahern
- Genre: Cozy Urban Fantasy Mystery
Length: 309 pages
Publisher: Malin Press; 1 edition (May 1, 2016)
- Purchase Links: Amazon
He had me at “Derry O’Donnell was fully qualified for unemployment in three different dialects”. I fell in love with the hapless heroine of David Ahern’s new cozy urban fantasy mystery as she’s confronted by her mother, Vannessa.
Her mother had never understood her career path. More than once she had demanded to know how it was possible to be an artistic success, as Derry insisted she most certainly was, and a financial failure? To Vanessa that sounded suspiciously like Communism.
For the five years since she graduated from Trinity College Dublin with her MA (Theatre Arts), Derry has been trying to make it as an actress. Not coincidentally, for five years she’s been broke, surviving only with the support of her financially successful mother. Then Vanessa issues an ultimatum: come back to New York, work for Vanessa in PR, and become a normal person. ‘Normal. Like everybody else, darling. Pedicures. A decent bag. Someone to go to the Oscars with who owns their own suit.’
When Derry’s friend Bella urges her to make a list of her strengths, Derry can only come up with two: she’s kind to animals (or she would be if she could afford a pet), and she’s inherited her father’s family gift of second sight. With Bella’s urging and support, Derry hatches a plan to become Madam* Tulip, world-famous psychic and fortune-teller. (*That’s Madam without an “e”, because she’s not married to Monsieur Tulip.)
With some appropriate accessories and a wig liberated by friends in a theater wardrobe department, Derry falls down the rabbit hole. Thanks to her father, artist and compulsive gambler Jacko, Derry meets power couple Peter Doyle and his supermodel wife, Marlene O’Mara. When her erratic and unreliable psychic gift results in a horse racing tip that comes in for both Jacko and Doyle at 40:1, Derry receives her first gig as Madam Tulip—telling fortunes at a society charity weekend with Bella as her ‘assistant’.
But it doesn’t take Derry’s psychic gift to tell that something is very wrong when the first guest dies and Bella becomes a suspect. In short order, her attempts to help Bella put Derry, her father, her ex-boyfriend, and her other friends in danger.
This may be author David Ahern’s first mystery novel, but he nails the cozy mystery/fantasy mashup while blessedly avoiding the usual chick lit tropes. Derry has few illusions about herself. She doesn’t protest that she’s ugly or too-normal—her attractive appearance is as much a professional tool as her voice or acting skills—but she also knows when that appearance is outclassed. ‘Next to Marlene, Derry felt like a hobbit—a hobbit overweight and round even by the famously relaxed standards of hobbits.’ Nor does she suffer from horribly unrequited love for her ex-boyfriend, aristocratic policeman Fritz. And like most children, she wavers between love for her divorced parents and the wish that she could divorce them as well.
I love a book with fully rounded three dimensional characters, and Madam Tulip certainly delivers. Not only does Derry grow over the course of the novel as she embraces her roles of fortune-teller and friend-rescuer, but supporting characters such as her father Jacko (artist/gambler/feckless ladies man), and her friends Bella (black/Belfast-born/actress with catch-phrase ‘Say No to Negativity!’), and Bruce (gay/ex-Navy Seal/actor/computer expert) all have slightly over-the-top tropes that make them unforgettable. Even more fun is the conscious evolution of Madam Tulip from her ‘birth’ to her debut at the celebrity fundraiser as Derry constantly debates about whether she is adhering to the psychic’s code.
The book’s pacing is great too, with a slower info-dumping start picking up speed as frightening events start piling up, and finishing with an edge-of-the-seat chase scene, complete with bullets and bombs.
My only (slight) complaints are that the character of Derry’s mother Vanessa is, we’re told, terrifying and overwhelming. But we have to take that on faith, because she actually never shows much of that. Also, while the fast-moving plot has a nice balance of humor and excitement, the mystery is not all that mysterious, the bad guys are telegraphed early, and some of the actions just don’t really seem to make sense in the plot scheme. But with the snarky dialog and quips, great characters, terrific settings (Dublin! Yay!) and nicely-delivered humor, these are actually minor concerns.
I would give Madam Tulip an enthusiastic four stars. If you’re up for a funny, well-written genre mashup with memorable characters and a great sense of voice and style, I’d recommend Madam Tulip. And I hope that David Ahern has the next book coming soon in this wonderful new series!
*I received this book for free from the publisher or author in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.*