Meet Brandy Alexander, a young woman from South Philadelphia with a big mouth, an even bigger heart and a little problem with impulse control. It’s not her fault trouble seems to follow her around. Okay, it is her fault, but why quibble over details?
When Brandy (a puff piece reporter for a local Los Angeles TV news station) returns to her hometown after a four year absence, she is thrilled to be reunited with friends and family. But her joy is short-lived when her best friend, John, becomes the victim of a tragic accident. Brandy is alone in thinking that the death is “no accident” and as she sets out to prove her theory, she stumbles upon a political scandal of major proportions. Things begin to heat up, when it appears that her former boyfriend, police Detective Robert Anthony DiCarlo, is involved in sabotaging the investigation. The one thing Brandy knows for sure is that people keep turning up dead and if she doesn’t get some answers fast, she could end up on the short list.
As Brandy searches out the truth, she gains some unexpected allies including sexy, dangerous, street-savvy Nicholas Santiago and the now-married Bobby, who still holds a torch for his former girlfriend.
With humor, guts and determination, Brandy tackles each challenge – be it dodging a bullet or resisting that box of Tastykakes in the cupboard. Murder, mayhem and romance abound in Shelly Fredman’s novel, proving there really is No Such Thing as a Secret.
Okay, I’ll admit it. Cozy mysteries are my guilty-pleasure reading.
A cozy-mystery is a murder-mystery that is light on blood, gore, sex and violence (hence the ‘cozy’). And the ‘mystery’ is normally investigated by an unlikely sleuth. I love a good cozy mystery, and a few of you probably do too (without realizing it!). Josh Lanyon’s ‘Adrien English’ series is a little bit cozy (except he writes explicit sex), because Adrien fits the ‘cozy sleuth’ as a book-seller turned amateur dick. Charlaine Harris’s ‘Sookie Stackhouse’ series has been described as a little-bit-cozy for having a telepathic barmaid who in each instalment has a ‘whodunnit’ to figure out (who kidnapped Bill, who kidnapped her brother, whose been shooting the local shifters etc...).
Shelly Fredman’s ‘Brandy Alexander’ series is cozy mystery. Brandy is a small-bit LA reporter who does fluff pieces for a third-rate TV network (think dog-show expose). Brandy is a South Philly girl born and bred, but she fled her home after the love of her life and boyfriend of ten years abruptly ended things. Brandy is forced to come home after a four-year absence to attend her best friend’s wedding. But when her other best friend is killed in a boat explosion Brandy puts her journalism degree to good use and hunts down her friend’s killer.
‘No Such Thing as a Secret’ was a great introduction to this cozy mystery series, and I fully intended to stick with the books. I loved the fact that amidst the larger plot of discovering a killer, Brandy was dealing with some very relatable emotional issues. Returning home after fleeing heartbreak makes for a wonderful kick-off to this book. The emotional stakes are further heightened when Brandy learns that her ex-boyfriend, Bobby, has been having marital difficulties and could be facing a custody battle for his baby daughter. Things are made ten-fold worse when Brandy and Bobby are forced to work together on the murder investigation of a mutual friend.
The mystery is great, a real page-turner and brain-teaser. It’s a misconception that putting ‘cozy’ in front of ‘mystery’ instantly makes it dumber or less intricately plotted. Fredman proves how wrong that assumption is in ‘No Such Thing as a Secret’. Clues are dropped, red herrings dangled and curveballs thrown. She really keeps readers on their toes and writes an amateur sleuth to admire in Brandy Alexander.
“... it’s who I am, Bobby. I can’t stand by and watch the bullies win. And maybe I don’t always think things through, and maybe I don’t always get it right, but I’m never going to just sit by and do nothing while there are people in the world who can’t fight for themselves. You used to be able to accept that about me.”And underneath all the high-stakes drama and intrigue, Brandy is acknowledging the fact that she has missed her home. She left Philly for LA four years ago, and in a bid to avoid Bobby and opening old emotional wounds, she hasn’t been back very often. One of the highlights of this book is Fredman writing about Philadelphia and Brandy in all her South Philly home-grown glory. Fredman clearly knows and loves this city, and the suburban side of things. She writes about restaurants, food, sights and smells with such aplomb that I felt as though I was walking down those streets with Brandy. South Philly really becomes a character unto itself in the book, for Brandy’s love of the place and later for the insider knowledge that helps her in the murder investigation.
“It used to drive me nuts, but I knew there was no stopping you. But this is different. This is life threatening.” He climbed off the bed and joined me at the window. “Brandy,” he said, forcing me to look at him, “I know I gave up the right to tell you what to do a long time ago. But I care about what happens to you.”
The secondary characters are also great and wonderful indicators of why Brandy has missed her home town so much. Her friends are loud and proud Philly natives; the women wear shorts skirts and big hair and the men frequent a local boxing ring for their work-out. A very different scene to Brandy’s life in LA. Her friends include twins Fran and Janine, and her gay best friend John. These characters are loud and wonderful and it soon becomes clear that Brandy has missed more than just the Philly food in her four-year absence.
Half-way through the book Brandy realizes that she needs to get an ‘in’ with the Philly underworld. Through a friend of a friend she is introduced to Nick Santiago, a shady martial-arts instructor who rubs the police the wrong way and is rumoured to have a hand in everything from weapons deals to training soldiers from the Congo. Nick is a sexy, suave and seductive man and a temptation for Brandy who has had a dry-spell since Bobby broke her heart. Nick steps in and does lots of leg-work for Brandy and the murder investigation, and at times it did feel like Nick was a scapegoat for the plot. Brandy still does plenty of legwork, but after Nick’s introduction he does a fair bit of heavy lifting. Plot semantics aside, Nick provides a hot and frustrating distraction for Brandy, and a nice alternative to Bobby’s complications.
The book did remind me a little of Janet Evanovich’s ‘Stephanie Plum’ series, because of Brandy’s two love interests. There’s Bobby DiCarlo, Brandy’s ex boyfriend/love of her life who dumped her four years ago for reasons unspecified but still devastating. Then there’s Nick Santiago, a karate trainer who is rumoured to do dodgy dealings with the Philly underworld and who sets the local police on edge. Bobby reminded me of Stephanie’s Joe Morelli, while Nick was reminiscent of Ranger. It was just a little similarity, and only so far as Joe/Bobby Ranger/Nick had similar jobs and contribution to ‘cracking the case’. But whereas Evanovich’s series is all about the funny, Fredman’s book is a wonderful mix of light and dark, comedy and tragedy. Brandy’s love life is far more robust as well – Brandy and Bobby have a complicated past, and while a few niggling questions are answered there’s still plenty still to be unearthed about these two and their rocky relationship. Nick is likewise an intriguing character, an obvious ladies man with a dark side but Brandy (and readers) can’t help but be a little bit smitten.
I really liked this book, and I am delving into the next three instalments with enthusiasm. I loved Brandy as an amateur sleuth, and as much as the murder investigation intrigued, the love triangle left me equally breathless. Wonderful start to a series!