“Digging Up Otis”, the second May List Mystery by Spokane-area author T. Dawn Richard, is a funny, heart warming story about a 66-year-old amateur detective, her eccentric friends and the murder that brings them back together.
The book reunites May Bell List with characters readers may remember from Richard’s first mystery novel “Death for Dessert.” Forensics Files-obsessed Fanny, Bob the dance instructor with a penchant for wearing tutus, sweet but scatterbrained Ida, Ida’s husband Grady and several other colorful people May met during a stay at a senior citizen complex in California are back for the second adventure.
For the most part, things have gotten better for May’s friends since they solved their first murder case. Their complex has been renovated and dramatically improved. It now goes by the name Waning Years Estates. May keeps noticing that everybody seems healthier and happier. An accident-prone inventor named Ramirez who drove May nuts in the previous book now runs a successful gift shop with his wife Anita. Life would seem pretty good if it wasn’t for the fact that the local police aren’t taking the disappearance of a Waning Years resident named Otis Culpepper very seriously.
Fans of “cozy mysteries” and zany humor will appreciate the twists and turns of the plot as May and her friends try to discover what really happened to Otis after he allegedly took off for Las Vegas. Shortly after May arrives in California, they find Otis’s dead body floating in the pool at the Waning Years sports complex. It would seem to be an open and shut case of accidental drowning. But was it? And was the dead man they found actually Otis?
Richard does an impressive job of keeping all the plates spinning in the murder mystery plot while throwing in generous helpings of humor. May and Ida’s run-in with a biker gang at the pool hall that Otis liked to play cards at is hilarious. The book just keeps getting funnier from there. One highlight is an extended chase scene where the bikers come to the rescue. There are also some elements of farce involving misplaced corpses and inept local patrol officers. The various cons and misdirections from the main plot also help set up some of the comedic scenes.
It is easy to see why some readers on Amazon preferred the first two books in the series over the ones set in the Spokane area. Richard’s style of comedy works better in some ways with a huge cast of characters. When Richard is in her groove, it’s almost like a classic screwball comedy from the 1960s. One might almost expect Jonathan Winters and Dick Shawn to show up at some point.
Some male readers may find descriptions of sexually active senior citizens and their wide variety of age-related health issues more offputting than amusing, but they shouldn’t let that stop them from enjoying the book. Women will probably appreciate Richard’s attention to detail.
“Digging Up Otis” is now available in a new edition from Spokane publisher Gray Dog Press. They recently added the May List series to their growing selection of titles. This gives local mystery buffs new opportunities to start at the beginning and see how May developed from being essentially the voice of reason surrounded by a bunch of lovable kooks to being the eccentric, yet highly effective investigator she is today.