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Sour Grapes by Natasha Cooper
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's review
Feb 23, 12

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Read in February, 2012


The title, to me, is maladroit. I enjoyed the book immensely but felt the title was a sort of arbitrary appendage rather than a word or phrase that sprang naturally from the story.

This is the second Willow King mystery I've read (as an aside, I wildly love, and much prefer the author's Trish Maguire books). I actually liked this King book better than the other (Drowning Pool), because, ironically, Willow is NOT the main character.

Somehow I find i weird that a police officer's wife like Willow would engage in her own no-badge crime solving, which was the case in Drowning Pool.

In this story, Willow is a good friend and best supporting character to a woman friend about 20 years younger: forensics grad student Emma Gnatche, who is studying false confessions. She searches out a curious case study: a man in prison for vehicular homicide, who claims his car was stolen the night in question so that someone else is the culprit in the deaths of two pedestrians.

Turns out the guy is innocent of that crime. But Emma's careful probing with polygraphs reveals the man's inner turmoil when asked supposedly tame "control" questions about his gardening and taking passengers in his car

But the man is guilty of something far worse, which Emma brings to light. After the excruciating pain of losing a 10-year-old (or so) son to necrotizing fasciitis (flesh-eating germs), acquired in hospital hospitalized for a simple tonsil removal, the man in question goes quietly berserk. That is, he is sickened when boys his own son's age proposition him for sex. Disgusted that they should live while his son had to diek the man strangles four of these "sex toy" boys, after driving each to a secluded spot. Hence the anxiety about discussing passengers.

Then the guy went and buried the bodies in the garden of his and his wife's award-winning modernistic home. Hence the gardening anxiety.

Apart from the lurid plot, I savor the subtleties in relationships that author Cooper is so good at --
Emma and Willow both love each other, and yet are in a sense professional rivals. Emma hooks up with a grad student from Australia who likes motorcycles and leathers, but she's also attracted to a good-looking, yet opportunistic male reporter.

As Emma gains confidence in her research prowess, she gains strength to tell off the older step-bro (10 years her senior) who had terrorized her when they were younger. She also acquires the starch to finally establish for herself the identity of her choosing as a working professional -- and not the automatic marriage and momhood that her mom expects of her.

The one false note, for me, came at the end, when Jane -- the newspaper editor friend of Willow's, who had turned Emma on to the prisoner in question -- offers Emma an investigative-journal job that would pay better than the other job offers.

I was a reporter at a mid-size daily paper for 25 years. It wasn't a top-rank outfit. But I find it hard to believe that a newspaper would pay more handsomely than Emma's other offers, which I presume were in academia or law enforcement.

I may enjoy these Willow King books quite a bit if Cooper keeps mixing it up -- adding new protagonists like Emma, who then mingle with the other characters she's already established.

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