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Sunday, September 19, 2010

'No Such Thing As A Free Lunch' Brandy Alexander Mystery #3 by Shelly FREDMAN

From the BLURB:

It's the new year and puff piece reporter Brandy Alexander has the best of intentions to keep her life safe, sane and simple...but she is having one tough week! It seems that everyone at her new job at TV station WINN hates her--everyone except for co-worker Tamra Rhineholt. But when their budding friendship is cut short by Tamra's apparent suicide, Brandy suspects foul play and (against the protests of her friends and family) sets out to prove it. Soon Brandy is up to her neck in kidnappers, convicts and conspiracies--all the while battling her growing feelings for sexy mystery man, Nicholas Santiago. Of course the amorous advances of her hunky ex-boyfriend, Detective Robert DiCarlo complicate matters even more. Toss in a visit with her well meaning but overbearing parents, her total denial of her own emotional exhaustion and the free lunches she'd been promised but never quite materialize and you have the recipe for the newest Brandy Alexander mystery!

This is the third book in Shelly Fredman’s addictive cozy mystery series, Brandy Alexander.

The book starts very soon after the events of ‘No Such Thing as a Blind Date’, the book in which Brandy was kidnapped and shot in her side.

When ‘Free Lunch’ begins, Brandy is feeling the burn of her post-traumatic stress. She’s not sleeping, with night terrors keeping her wide awake. She’s jumping at every little sound and seeing danger in shadows. But Brandy is a good Catholic/Jewish girl and thinks that suppressing her issues is better than addressing them.
Adding to Brandy’s stress is her new job as puff-piece reporter (and ‘C-grade’ celebrity) for a local Philadelphia TV station. Brandy is outcast at work and struggling with her co-workers cold shoulders. Only one of Brandy’s colleagues is half-way decent to her, Tamra Rhineholt, a hard-nosed investigative reporter. But Brandy notices a change in Tamra’s temperament after the two have a disastrous lunch together. Tamra is jumpy and calling Brandy in the middle of the night with talk of a big story about to break... and then Tamra winds up dead. Police rule suicide, but Brandy suspects differently.
Still reeling from the events of ‘Blind Date’, Brandy jumps helter-skelter into yet another dangerous investigation that sees her snooping too close to the truth...

I *love* the ‘Brandy Alexander’ mystery series, and Fredman’s third outing hits the spot...

I love the fact that in this third book, Brandy is burnt out. She has been through so much, and whereas most cozy mystery authors would brush their amateur sleuth’s near-misses under the literary rug and throw them helter-skelter into yet another investigation, Fredman actually takes the time to examine Brandy’s fracturing psyche. A good portion of the book involves Brandy questioning her own sanity, and fighting her growing anxiety. Fredman doesn’t turn Brandy into a ‘Debbie downer’ by revealing her soft underbelly; she just succeeds in making Brandy all the more relatable and lovable. See, despite her night terrors and anxiety attacks, Brandy soldiers on. She gets to a point where she is *so* scared that she can do nothing but accept the fear and push through it. I was really cheering Brandy on in this book, for her loyalty to her dead co-worker, and also for overcoming her fear. Brave girl, admirable heroine.

Fair warning, Brandy’s romantic entanglements are infuriating in this third book.

The romantic pacing is a little bit off for me. Right when I want Brandy to pipe up and talk about her feelings, she remains silent. Or when Brandy/Bobby or Brandy/Nick *finally* decide to quit walking on egg-shells and have a heart-to-heart, they say too little. When it comes to relationship dialogue, Fredman seems to prefer scarce and pithy one-liners to long diatribes.... and I *hate* that! The perfect example is an exchange between Bobby and Brandy – a momentous event has just occurred between them and the character’s sum it up in five short lines of dialogue. GRRR! I know it’s realistic of Fredman to not have these character’s expunging every little feeling they have, and spouting Dr. Phil rhetoric... but damn, as a reader I just want to put them in a room together and encourage ‘open communication’!

One thing that really bugs me is Brandy’s disinclination to talk to Bobby about how much he hurt her four years ago. Bobby and Brandy were high school sweethearts, until Bobby broke up with Brandy and broke her heart four years ago. In the interim Brandy moved to LA and started a fluffy journalist career, and Bobby got a one-night-stand knocked up, resulting in his daughter, Sophia.
In the first book, ‘No Such Things as a Secret’, Brandy seemed to have healed the wounds of her past, and she acknowledged that she didn’t need to have a big all-out with Bobby over his past actions. But as a reader, *I* still need Brandy to address Bobby’s past pain. It just irks me that Brandy has never really gotten overtly angry at Bobby for casting her aside... especially when, in this third book, Bobby makes his amorous feelings of reconciliation plainly known;
“I've got to be honest with you, sweetheart, except for Sophia, my life has been shit these past few years.” Before I could say anything, he added, “I did it to myself, I know. And I screwed you over in the process. But the way I look at it, we’ve got a chance to start over. And this,” he said, pulling me toward him, “would be an excellent place to start.”
Once again, I know it’s Fredman erring on the side of realism, but by gosh I was gritting my teeth with the need to yell at Bobby on Brandy’s behalf...
I did that a few times while reading this book, in fact. Sometimes I got so emotionally involved in Brandy’s predicaments that I was literally sputtering through scenes. And how wonderful that a character can rouse that sort of vicarious-indignity in me. It’s a sign of a truly good author and lovable character when readers get so invested.

And then there’s the other man in Brandy’s life, Nick Santiago... .ahh. Nick, Nick, Nick. Once again, as a reader and Brandy-fan I was really on the edge of my seat trying to decipher Brandy and Nick’s changing emotions. I sort of love that Nick is such an enigma, to Brandy and readers alike. It’s up to us to discern and dissect his words and actions, motives and motivations. As a reader I don’t think I’m any closer to discerning Nick’s feelings... but Brandy is likewise none the wiser.
Nick has been very honest with Brandy, telling her that he doesn’t do monogamy and can offer nothing but friendship. Brandy has also seen first-hand evidence of Nick’s voracious love life, after painful encounters with a few of his lady friends.
If Fredman hadn’t done such a good job writing Nick as a sexy and mysterious ‘bad boy’ with a heart of gold fans might be frustrated with Brandy’s continual romantic martyrdom. But the thing is, Fredman has done such a fine job sculpting Nick into a drool-worthy darling that we *get* it. I may be concerned for Brandy’s feelings, and sometimes frustrated with Nick’s stone-walling emotions, but by golly I can’t fault Brandy’s hormones!

I still love the ‘Brandy Alexander’ mystery series, three books deep. Fredman just keeps getting better and better, and despite jaw-clenching romantic tensions I can’t wait to read what happens next in Brandy’s crazy, muddled (love)life.

4/5

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