REVIEW: The White Magic Five and Dime (Steve Hockensmith)

w502370Ladies and gentlemen, my favourite book of 2014 so far…

It does the reader’s soul good to branch out occasionally, and have a pop at a genre they usually avoid. I received The White Magic Five and Dime through netgalley, and although I would probably have avoided it in a bookshop, something caught my interest, and it was top of my list to read (after Jackaby, which I reviewed earlier this week.)

Alanis McLachlan grew up as a hustler and con artist under the not-so-protective wing of her mother – but she hasn’t seen the woman in twenty years. Until her mother is murdered, and she inherits her mother’s new age tarot shop in a remote American town and, unable to resist, she heads to investigate. There, she finds herself taking over the shop – and her mother’s life – and making a few enemies along the way…

The star of this book is Alanis, our narrator. She’s smart, cynical, adroit and very, very funny. She’s “wrapped in layers of sarcasm and insincerity” that make her simultaneously slippery to pin down and hilariously entertaining – much like the book really.

The packaging of the book is quite emphatically cosy mystery, and – although I don’t have much experience of the genre – it’s certainly playing in that wheelhouse. But underneath that there’s a good deal more steel to it than that. The mystery plot runs at a breakneck place, with multiple blind alleys managed ably, and its motoring on a very solid crime plot, but slickly walled up inside compulsively readable, irreverent monologuing. I rarely find books funny – not laugh out loud funny anyway – but White Magic Five and Dime Store got me, hands down.

It’s also sweetly good-natured without being sacharine. Alanis is aggressively suspicious about everything and everyone, but what starts out as a send-up of small-town concerns and new-age waffyism swiftly mellows into a degree of understanding a connection. Not that that’s overwhelming the story or anything – get too emotional, and there’s a one-liner ready to hand. The tarot itself, naturally centre-stage in the story, is handled on exactly the same line – simultaneously ridiculous and serious.

Steve Hockensmith comes by way of two sequels to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which is almost enough to convince me to read that series, if it brings half the wit and sheer joy of reading. I sped through this book at a ridiculous pace, and I am – as ever – eagerly awaiting a sequel. Although, as this one isn’t out until July, I may be waiting awhile.

Review copy provided by netgalley.

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