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By Pete Hautman
Simon & Schuster, HC, $23, 281 pp.
Reviewed by Anthony Neil Smith
Yet another novel from Hautman concerning the family and friends of Sam O'Gara, and it's just a wonderful book from a writer I think deserves due credit in crime fiction. He's going to be a great one. If there's any dispute on that, I refer you to Hautman's THE MORTAL NUTS, his masterpiece so far.
In MRS. MILLION, Sam O'Gara's daughter Barbaraannette (Sam doesn't show up this time as he does in RING GAME, MORTAL NUTS, and DRAWING DEAD) wins the Minnesota Lottery--Nine million bucks. Her first move: To offer a million dollar reward for the return of her missing husband. Of course, the husband, Bobby, is alive and well in Arizona with another woman when he hears the news. And there lies a plan. Of course, Bobby owes money in his hometown. Not to mention the fact that other people, like the loopy JayJay Morrow, might want to cash in on the reward. Screwball comedy ensues, and it's packed with real emotion this time. It's not only a funny and thrilling book, but it's touching as well.
One thing Hautman has a knack for is giving every character a story, much like Charles Willeford used to do in the Hoke Moseley novels. No matter how minor a character, Hautman provides a life behind the few pages that person might be in the story. It's really a nice touch. The other thing Hautman is especially gifted at is providing sympathetic bad guys. They're never all bad, and are usually victims of circumstance, bad timing, or failed ambition. You really feel for them when everything begins to fall apart. And there are usually several antagonists between a rock and hard place in Hautman's books. This time around, it's a split between Bobby, the beleaguered husband, and Andre Gideon, beleaguered college professor and JayJay's boyfriend. While Bobby may have had it coming, it's heartbreaking to follow Andre's descent into Hautman Hell.
This book has been compared to Carl Hiassen's last novel, LUCKY YOU, also about a woman winning the lottery. Never mind the coincidence in subject matter; Hautman deserves to be read regardless.
My one complaint: Pete, you're a little too tidy. In Art Dobbleman's case, I quote the Stones: "You can't always get what you want." Life's messy. Remember that next time.
Very highly recommended. Deserves to be on some Best of the Year lists. I'll be watching...
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