A Bad Day for Pretty
by Sophie Littlefield
Minotaur Books, An Imprint of St. Martin’s Publishing Group
Reviewed by Patricia Stoltey
When Stella Hardesty had taken all the abuse she could handle from her no-good husband, she took him out with a wrench. It was self defense, plain and simple, and Stella was acquitted. Nowadays she owns Hardesty Sewing Machine Repair & Sales and runs a little vigilante attitude adjustment service on the side. Word gets around, whispered from woman to woman. When a wife or girlfriend needs protection from the jerk she hooked up with in a moment of stupidity, she’s likely to hire badass Stella to pay the jerk a not-so-friendly visit.
Since her marriage was abruptly terminated, Stella has kept a tight rein on her emotions and a lock on her heart. But wouldn’t you know it? She’s gone all mushy-kneed over Sheriff Goat Jones. He cooks, cleans, would never hurt a woman, and he has helped Stella clean up her not-so-law-abiding messes a time or two.
In A Bad Day for Pretty, the second Stella Hardesty mystery, bad weather is whipping through the Missouri countryside where big city living happens way off in Kansas City and tornadoes bring an assortment of unpleasant surprises, the first being Goat’s not-quite-ex-wife, Brandy Truax, who shows up when Stella and Goat are having their first romantic dinner at Goat’s home.
Stella beats a fast retreat, convinced that she’s been fooled by a man once again when she should have known better. The next morning, an old client calls concerning her formerly pain-killer-addicted and religious-cult-following husband Neb, who’s now in trouble. That tornado blew over the snack shack at the demolition derby track at the fairgrounds, and a section of the foundation was destroyed, revealing a body. Neb, who has been on a straight and narrow path for some time, is the main suspect.
With the help of her assorted, somewhat quirky friends and her grown daughter, Noelle, Stella sets out to prove Neb’s innocence. Life is complicated by Goat and Brandy’s marital mess, and a growing suspicion that Stella would have to find the real killer before she could convince anyone that Neb wasn’t a murderer.
One of the things I like most about Littlefield’s novels is main character Stella’s unique and distinctive voice. We frequently read that good writing uses a minimum of adjectives and adverbs, but if we were to edit out the frequent hyphenated strings of descriptive prose, Stella wouldn’t be Stella, and these books wouldn’t be as much fun. This character describes her world and the people in it as she sees them. Goat’s almost-ex-wife has “bloodred-tipped fingers” and a “complicated platinum-blonde updo.” Some marriages are “never-quite-split” ones. Stella’s clients have husbands or boyfriends who are “no-good, wife-smacking, covenant-breaking mates.” And her friend’s little boy, Tucker, is a “towheaded sideways-grinning new-tooth-drooling brat” that Stella loves with all her heart.
The plot of A Bad Day for Pretty is solid, with enough twists and turns to keep a mystery reader interested. The logic is good, the resolution satisfying, and the characters interesting and likable. For an extra dose of good reading, I recommend starting this series with the first book, A Bad Day for Sorry.
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The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) disclaimer: Copies of A Bad Day for Pretty were provided free to The Blood-Red Pencil for the purpose of reviewing the novel. No monetary payment was involved.
Patricia Stoltey is a mystery author, blogger, and critique group facilitator. Active in promoting Colorado authors, she also helps local unpublished writers learn the critical skills of manuscript revision and self-editing. For information about Patricia’s Sylvia and Willie mystery series, visit her website and her blog. You can also find her on Facebook (Patricia Stoltey) and Twitter (@PStoltey).