Secondhand Smoke Review
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Early in the morning on Thanksgiving Day, New Haven reporter Annie Seymour wakes to the smell of smoke and the sound of sirens. Prego, the Italian restaurant down the street, is on fire. When Annie pulls herself together and makes her way to the scene, she finds that fire fighters found a body in the rubble—and everyone’s assuming it’s Prego’s owner, Sal Amato, who couldn’t sleep the night before and hasn’t been seen since.

As Annie tries to get the scoop and write up the story, she begins to realize that there’s more going on in her old neighborhood than she ever realized—things that involve Sal and his family, a bunch of chickens, retired Mob boss Dominic Gaudio, and Annie’s dad, who makes a sudden surprise trip from his new home in Las Vegas as soon as he hears about the fire. The more she digs for the facts, the more Annie gets tangled up in the story. To complicate matters even more, she has to deal with Tom, her former boyfriend, who also happens to be one of the cops handling the case. And no matter how hard she tries, she can’t seem to avoid private detective Vinnie DeLucia, who—despite his upcoming nuptials to Rosie, a nice Italian girl from the neighborhood—won’t leave her alone.

Lately, the market has been flooded with chick lit—not that I’m complaining, since, I’ll freely admit that I love reading it. Tons of authors are jumping on the Janet Evanovich bandwagon—by writing mysteries that have a somewhat edgy, girl-from-the-neighborhood character in the lead. And, again, I’m not complaining. Because sometimes it works. Sometimes, however, it doesn’t.

I love a good Average Jill kind of character—one who’s strong yet still a girl, who doesn’t go to the gym nearly as often as she should, who has a serious weakness for, say, French fries. Or pizza and beer. And I wanted to like Annie Seymour. But I didn’t. Olson takes the character beyond the edgy, girl-from-the-neighborhood persona and makes her a little too gruff and coarse and extreme to be really likeable. And that made reading Secondhand Smoke difficult for me. I wish I’d liked her—because I really did enjoy the story. It gives a good mix of Annie’s family life (her dad lives in Vegas and has a questionable background, and her mom’s dating Annie’s boss), her work life (she has to deal with an overzealous young reporter who keeps getting in her way), and the story (which has plenty of interesting twists). But characters often make or break a story—and I couldn’t really attach myself to Annie. She’s like the friend you eventually start avoiding—once you realize that her constant crankiness is starting to rub off on you.

Secondhand Smoke is a quick read with an interesting story. I just hope that, after handing in her latest story, Annie takes a vacation—so she’ll be a little less cranky in Ms. Olson’s next book.

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