cover image BUBBLES ABLAZE


Sarah Strohmeyer, . . Dutton, $23.95 (308pp) ISBN 978-0-525-94738-7

Agatha winner Strohmeyer provides lots of madcap fun in her third book (after 2002's Bubbles in Trouble) to feature budding reporter/detective/hairdresser Bubbles Yablonsky. Lured into an unused Pennsylvania coal mine, Bubbles and her "Mel Gibson dead ringer" photographer boyfriend, Steve Stiletto, narrowly escape harm in a cave-in right after they stumble on car-sales magnate Bud Price with "a six-inch bloody hole blown into the middle of his chest." They also find the abandoned car of Bubbles's cousin-in-law, Carl "Stinky" Koolball, the cartographer for McMullen Coal, the company that owns the mine. And now Stinky's missing. The plot thickens like a vat of kapusta as more and more ingredients are added—perhaps too many. On top of her crime-solving, Bubbles must deal with her rebellious teenage daughter, her biker-chick mother's vendetta over some stolen Polish recipes, and a clean-cut stud named Zeke who keeps following her. Some lines are laugh-out-loud funny. Asked if she knows who John Gotti was, Bubbles is "almost positive [he] ran a pizza parlor in Allentown." The dumb-blonde schtick works well with the whole loony business, and Strohmeyer's sharp eye for styles and regional details (Tastykakes, scrapple) adds to the realism and the charm. Agent, Heather Schroder at ICM. (June 30)

Forecast:Dressed in blonde wig and stiletto heels like her heroine, Strohmeyer draws increasing crowds on her author tours. Her publisher is betting that Bubbles will be the next Stephanie Plum, her obvious prototype, but Strohmeyer's writing needs to be more disciplined, less scattershot before Janet Evanovich fans come over in big numbers.