Monday, August 15, 2011

From Hell to Breakfast by Joan Opyr

Publisher:                Blue Feather Publishing

Sam Hardy is dead. This must be understood or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am about to review. Sam went out in a blaze of glory after blowing up part of the sewer system of Cowslip, Idaho. His sister Bil (short for Wilhelmina) loved him dearly and also found him irritating beyond belief, which is what she told him the last time she saw him, and that explains why she’s having so much trouble dealing with his death. Otherwise she wouldn’t be stuffing herself with Vietnamese food every night and have that ridiculous tattoo right above her butt.

Joan Opyr takes her readers back to the characters she introduced in her novel Idaho Code. The Hardy family and their friends are still at the center of everything happening in their small town. Bil and her mother find a dead body that no one can explain; two of Bil’s sisters appear to be dating the same man, which is a disaster in the making; and, Sylvie, Bil’s girlfriend, has to deal with the fact that her mother has chosen to have her first lesbian affair with the biggest player in town, whose ex-husband has shown up to tell her that they never were divorced twenty-five years before.

If that’s not enough to keep the story moving, let’s throw in an illegal gambling establishment, a mystery that goes back to the Vietnam War and involves several key players, an evangelical preacher who is trying to take over the town and a healthy meth trade that is going on in the area. Bil wants to do nothing more than enjoy life with Sylvie, but her family won’t leave her alone and that includes Sam who, like Marley’s ghost, keeps popping up in her dreams with cryptic messages. There’s nothing quite like life in Cowslip, fortunately for everyone else.

Opyr’s strong suit is in her character development. These people seem real. They love and hate each other, praise and attack, undermine and support, all at the same time, just like in the real world. The reader can easily visualize each of them and comes to know their little quirks. There are plenty of those. The characters are also very funny, which keeps the story light, and makes it fun to read. Emma Hardy may be the most memorable character. She’s the mother no one wants to have, but many seem to get.

The story unfolds not in a linear direction, but more like a spreading pool of water, flowing in different directions all at the same time. It keeps the reader busy running from one development to another wondering how all of it is going to pull together. It’s difficult to know what genre to put
From Hell to Breakfast in. There is a mystery in it, but it’s not a mystery novel. There is romance, but it’s not a love story. There is adventure, but nothing hair- raising until the very end. It might be proper to call it a character study because there are certainly plenty of those to follow, but that doesn’t quite capture the idea of the book either. Perhaps the best thing to do is call it fiction and let each reader decide where she will place it. If nothing else, the reader will have great fun while trying to figure it out.

PS. If the first two sentences sound familiar, they’re a shameful rip off of Charles Dickens’
A Christmas Carol. It seemed appropriate to do it.

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