Friday, November 7, 2014

Minerva Koenig’s hill country noir has more twists than a Texas corn maze

Reviewed in the Boerne Star Nov. 4, 2014
Julia Kalas’ San Francisco construction business is a money laundering front for her gun-running hubby’s illegal enterprises. When members of a skinhead group shoot the two of them, Julia survives, turns states evidence, and joins the witness protection program. She is placed under the supervision of Theresa Hallstedt, the Police Chief of Azula, Texas—a small, boring hill country town. Chief Hallstedt has arranged for Julia to work at the local downtown watering hole, Hector Guerra’s bar.
      Hector is single and good looking and Julia sets him in her sights—“long black hair, big dark eyes, Aztec nose, delicious mouth. The man was gorgeous.” Hector and Chief Hallstedt are close friends and Hector was doing her a favor by hiring Julia.
      When Chief Hallstedt is found dead on the roof of the bar, the local sheriff tries to pin the murder on Hector. Julia jumps into the melee, determined to find the real killer. She risks exposing her criminal past by contacting her former associates for help. When a mummified hand shows up, she almost gets herself killed.
      “Nine Days” by Austin author Minerva Koenig (ISBN 9781250051943, Minotaur Books), is her debut novel and she doesn’t disappoint. With more twists and turns than a Texas corn maze, her flawed characters expose their foibles and stumble through a series of nefarious machinations that lead to a stunning revelation.
      Unlike so many of the boilerplate crime novels where the heroine is a gorgeous lanky blonde who drives an expensive sports car, Koenig’s protagonist is a short, chubby, almost-forty, meddling interloper who finds comfort tooling around in her pale yellow 1987 Dodge pick-up truck.
      Other characters are just as quirky. Hector’s adoptive sister, Tova, is a calculating platinum blonde with a French twist and chilly, blue eyes. Richard Hallstedt, the police chief’s colorless estranged husband is a physician who is also a member of the city council and who is pushing for a package of commercial property tax incentives for a downtown revitalization project. Then there is Hallstedt’s alcoholic, busy-bodied maid, Maria, who stumbles upon something that turns the case upside down. Even the local curandera, Silvia Molina, inserts herself into the murder investigation. She follows Julia around town in her old, sunburned Cadillac and, when Julia confronts her, the sorceress turns to her tarot cards and reveals personal knowledge about Julia, leading her to conclude that her witness protection cover has been blown.
      The surprising conclusion explodes in an ironic twist, leaving plenty of room for a sequel.
      “Nine Days” is a gem. It’s hill country noir at its finest.

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