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Jim Lively
Surreal Absurdity
Jim Lively, author
Charles Pierce has some bizarre situations in Dallas to navigate in Surreal Absurdity. He desperately needs a guardian angel to watch over him. Jamie Simon is arrested for theft and murder after trying to poison Charles because she held him responsible for her husband's death. Charles does not want to relive the demons of his past and is reluctant to testify in court against her. Detective Gonzales informs Charles that he will be charged for failing to report an earlier confession by Jamie to him if he does not testify and help get her conviction. Then a mysterious stranger threatens Charles at an art gallery opening. Charles's business cards start popping up at crime scenes which leads to him being arrested for homicide. To make matters worse, someone tried to kill him in a drive-by shooting. Is Charles a victim, murderer or both?
Lively’s second in the mystery series that kicked off with Aberrant Behavior brings back amateur detective Charles Pierce, who’s about to find himself again tangled in bizarre mysteries. Charles is starting over later in life, retired as an attorney who defended medical insurance companies’ denials of claims, after a case very nearly killed him: Aberrant Behavior found Jamie Simon, the wife of a claimant who died, attempting to poison Charles on a cruise. He’s now focusing on his passion for art in his new studio, but it doesn’t take long for a strange bearded man to turn up there and threaten Charles appear and threaten him—“So you’re the bastard who caused my family a load of trouble.” Making matters worse: Jamie the poisoner has also reappeared.

Charles and detective Gonzales, a cop trying to figure it all out, are the kind of standout characters series readers look forward to meeting again in book after book, and several others feel like they could be that, too, with clearer roles and more substantial development. This time, though, some of the cast don’t exhibit much individuality outside their story function as suspects or red herrings, which contributes to the feeling that the final revelations aren’t all that surprising.

The hook of this series—an ex-lawyer’s easy life upended by fallout from the work he did—remains compelling. Lively draws readers in with effective scene setting: a dark, tense walk when Charles is expecting to be attacked, and sequences in which characters are followed or worrying about who’s going to turn up. Less intense set pieces also have welcome detail and energy, such as the goings on at the art studio and, especially, an art gallery in full party mode. Lively’s frequent attention to wine will be fun for connoisseurs—and a distraction for non-oenophiles.

Takeaway: Mystery again comes for a retired lawyer in this sequel that will please art and wine connoisseurs.

Great for fans of: Vinnie Hansen’s Art, Wine & Bullets, Hailey Lind’s Feint of Art.

Production grades
Cover: B
Design and typography: B
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: B
Marketing copy: B