MURDER IN THE HEARSE DEGREE
Those who enjoy lighthearted mysteries with screwball characters will relish Cockey's fourth outing to feature Baltimore undertaker Hitchcock Sewell. A former lover, Libby Gellman, who's left her abusive husband, Mike, asks Hitch to find Sophie Potts, her missing nanny. When Sophie turns up dead and pregnant, a supposed suicide, Hitch agrees to investigate. Hitch and his pal Pete Munger, a sometime PI, learn that Sophie was interested in ARK—the Alliance for Reason and Kindness—an amorphous religious organization. The case heats up when Hitch uncovers some puzzling connections: a friend of Sophie's, who'd accompanied her to visit ARK's shady director, Crawford Larue, is murdered; Larue's wife is having an affair with Mike; and Mike's uncle Owen, a high-powered attorney, is connected with ARK. Then Mike commits suicide. As usual, the writing is smooth and amusing: a man has muttonchop sideburns "thick enough you could hide toothpicks in them"; another has a moustache "the size of a small propeller." Fans will be glad to see such series regulars as Hitch's ex-wife, Julia; his mortuary partner, Aunt Billie; and 12-year-old mortician wannabe Darryl Sandusky. A passing parade of clients completes the offbeat cast. Author tour. (Feb. 12)
Forecast:Cockey's following should continue to grow, boosted by the popularity of the Baltimore-set TV show Homicide, as well by the novels of Laura Lippman.