(34. – 921.) Sweetheart Deal by Claire Matturro (2007) – Lilly Belle Rose Cleary, the sassy acerbic germ phobic vegetarian medical malpractice attorney from Sarasota, returns to her hometown of Bugfest, Georgia when she is called by her respectable brother Dan because their mother, Willette, is in the local hospital heavily sedated after being arrested for killing a repo man, Ray Glenn, who had come to her home to with regard a deep freeze.
It is murky why he was there about a deep freeze. She had needed a new refrigerator. Dan had made the purchase for her as Willette had not been out of her house for years.
She would not allow anyone, including family, into her home. Dan would occasionally speak to her on the phone but never in person. Some days he would talk to her through the locked front door. Her grandson, Bobby, now a teenager had never actually spoken directly to his grandmother.
Lilly Belle has had little use for her mother since she kicked her and her bad brother, Delvon, out of the house when they were teenagers.
As for Bugfest she left town with Delvon the night of her graduation from high school.
Two decades have passed since graduation but Lilly Belle remains resentful of the life she endured in Bugfest as a teenager. She has returned not so much for the sake of Willette but to help Dan cope with the situation.
As Lilly Belle tries to find out what happened Dan and his wife, Patti Lea, set out to clean Willette’s house. It is a daunting task. It is one vast hoard of papers and used tissues. It is dark and filthy and disgusting. It is a striking irony that Lilly Belle, obsessed with cleanliness, is called upon to help with the house. It takes a major effort of will for Lilly Belle to even enter the home.
As Lilly Belle investigates she learns there is a major local controversy over a plan to enlarge a local lake to create a new recreational area which will have a major resort and lots of new expensive homes. Several land owners are opposed but are facing the county using the doctrine of eminent domain to take their properties so the development can proceed.
Adding to Lilly Belle’s upset with her mother was her mother’s sale of the country home and 40 acres in the vicinity of the lake of Lily Belle’s grandmother. The buyer, Lonnie, was the high school heartthrob of her youth though he never dated Lilly Belle. Eventually Lily Belle comes across the sale documents in which Willette sold the property, not through a contract for sale but by a contract for deed. That form of sale is a form of vendor financing where the title stays in the name of the vendor until the full purchase price is paid. Among the many questions for Lilly Belle is whether the purchase price was fully paid.
Aiding Lilly Belle is her high school classmate, the brassy Shalonda, now married to the Sheriff, Demetrious. In a reflection of the new South Demetrious is African American.
Lilly Belle and Shalonda were a dynamic duo in high school and are just as formidable twenty years later.
Competing with the murder for attention in Bugfest is the rapidly approaching Mule Day, the social event of the summer. Sheriff Demetrious owns a leading contestant, in BB (Big Beauty).
The story rollicks along with Lilly Belle whirling her way through the sedate country life of Bugfest.
Matturro has a talent for comic writing. Readers will be smiling at the antics of the residents of Bugfest and Lilly Belle’s discomfort at being back in town. Physical discomfort comes in a scene where Lilly Belle hides a tape recorder in her bra. Among the challenges of the hidden recorder is turning it and off.
I enjoyed Sweetheart Deal but not as much as earlier books in the series. My next post discusses the reasons.