Score: 94.5/100 (9.45 out of 10)
We're so privileged to have gotten a second crack at this book, this time in audiobook format! It really added an exciting new dimension to the reading experience. We'd forgotten just how fun, humorous, and thoroughly entertaining this book was.
It's humorous to a surprising degree, everything from the characters slipping and falling into a shelf full of cereals to them dressing up like prostitutes to get a scoop. Some of our favorite moments were just getting to know Sheila and her life alone with her cat running a little online journalism business. There's a scene in here in which Sheila makes the excuse that she was talking to her cat while something else was going on, then the other character asks her if her cat talked back to her. Hilariously, Sheila gets defensive and says, “She did, in fact, she said she was hungry.”
On the this second reading, Sheila does shine even brighter than she did before. She is hilariously awkward and defensive. Her strong-will and strong-mindedness definitely come across as she refuses to give up on her conviction that something isn't right. She refuses to drop the case of the murder of an innocent Black man, Arthur Jones, even though the police and Arthur's own family insist that there's nothing more to it.
Coincidentally, this is the fourth CONSECUTIVE crime mystery novel that we've read. What made this one fresh was that it doesn't take itself too seriously while also being respectful about the touchy subject matters of race and police brutality. As we said in our previous review of the Kindle version of this book, the murder in this book is eerily similar to the murder of George Floyd by police in broad daylight. It's no joking matter, and the author gets it. Sheila is deeply troubled by what she witnessed. She even cries at one point when it sinks in that an innocent man of color was killed in front of her and she felt powerless to stop it. On the flip side, there's a lot more to this than just being a clone or carbon copy of that real-life tragedy. There's a lot more to meet the eye... Firstly, why is it that the “police officers” that Sheila saw commit the murder aren't in the police data base? Why is it that the victim's family, mainly his mother, don't seem that troubled by him being gone? Why is it that the city, the media, and the powers-that-be want to divert attention away from the murder and toward other things, especially their new candidate for governor?
The mystery and intrigue just grow and grow and grow. It's so calculated. Like a spring, the tension just coils and gains steam. There are some great twists and turns. Furthermore, you're fully invested in Sheila and company resolving this murder. What did we say last time? That it's such-and-such meets Scooby Doo and the Mystery Machine? Well, it kinda is! This group of rag-tag brilliant idiots are just so fun to read about. Each and every single one of them stands out in their own way: Sheila, Reggie, Mama Sue, and Tania. There's a scene that encompasses just how great their chemistry is: the scene in which they almost cause an accident and get away with it by playing pregnant.
Another character who really, really shone the first time was Reggie, and he shines even brighter now. Reggie is just such a likable, lovable character. He is a really good guy, the kind of neighbor and friend we all would want. He is unselfish, clever (sometimes too clever for his own good like when he slips and falls because he's trying to play ninja), and always willing to lend a helping hand. As a person of color, Reggie also balances out the cast of characters and gives us a perspective that's directly relevant to the subject of race and police brutality. It is one thing to be a white person and see it happen, it's another thing to be a Black person and actually experience the chocolate rain for yourself. He gives one of the most inspired—albeit somewhat contrived—speeches in the entire book: that we should want both police to be rewarded to do their jobs and for there to be social justice. You can literally hear the inspirational, patriotic music, trumpets blaring and eagles screeching when he is giving this speech. Well, ok, not literally. Like, you can't hear music during the audiobook, but you can definitely imagine it.
We have to address the efforts of the narrator, Michelle Morgan. She did a great job. She does have a different quality to her voice. There's a slight rasp to it and it's slightly deep. The best way we can describe her voice is that it sounds like that aunt your mom didn't get along with all the time but that you still enjoyed visiting from time to time because she could cook and had an expensive entertainment system + all the Star Wars and Star Trek movies on VHS. In other words, the narrator kinda sounds like a fourth grade resource teacher. You know, the one you went to when the regular teacher was being mean?
The voice fits this book because this book is not a straightforward story. There's a silliness and quirkiness to it that fits Morgan's tone and voice. There is one moment in this book that is made even funnier by Morgan's delivery than when we read it the first time. There's this somewhat contrived scene in which “We Shall Overcome” is sung, written out verbatim. Literally word for word. It's obviously supposed to be an emotional and inspirational scene based on the way that the characters start crying and swelling up with emotions, but it's made a little funny in a meta context by Morgan's unemotive delivery of the song. What do you expect? Most narrators probably would've done the same thing. It's just that the delivery of that part was so matter-of-fact and stoic, totally unfitting with what was going on in the scene, that we couldn't help but laugh a little about it. It's like if someone kicked you really hard in the shin, but it took your brain like a full second to register it like, “....Owww..” It really didn't matter that much, and we're not holding it against her or Garritano. We just wanted to mention that we noticed it and it made us laugh like a lot of this book did.
Lastly, the villain of this book does turn out to be a great choice by the author. There are a bunch of red herrings and “obvious” choices, yet we still found ourselves a little surprised all over again.
We're excited for the sequels!
Check this book out on Amazon!