Title: Murder is a Family Business
Author: Heather Haven
Genre: Mystery/Humorous P.I.
Paperback: 183 pages
Publisher: MuseItUp Publishing (January 2011)
Just because a man cheats on his wife and makes Danny DeVito look tall, dark and handsome, is that any reason to kill him? The reluctant and quirky PI, Lee Alvarez doesn’t think so. But the 34-year old ½ Latina, ½ WASP and 100% detective has her work cut out for her when the man is murdered on her watch. Of all the nerve. Set in the present, Murder is a Family Business is the first in a series of humorous mysteries revolving around Lee Alvarez, a combination of Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone and Janet Evanovitch’ Stephanie Plum, and rest of the Alvarez Family, detectives all. Seemingly light and frothy on the surface, the novel nevertheless explores familial love, the good, the bad and the annoying.
Completing the family is Lee’s Never-Had-A-Bad-Hair-Day aristocratic mother, Lila; computer genius brother, Richard; beloved uncle “Tio;” and her energetic orange and white cat, Tugger. When this group is not solving murders, they run Discretionary Inquiries, a successful Silicon Valley agency that normally deals with the theft of computer software. The love, humor and camaraderie shared within this family are what set this series apart from others.
The Not-So-Perfect Storm
“God, surveillance sucks,” I griped aloud to a seagull languishing on a nearby, worm eaten post, he being my only companion for the past few hours. He cocked his head and stared at me. I cocked my head and stared at him. It might have been the beginning of a beautiful friendship, but a nearby car backfired and he took off in a huff. Watching him climb, graceful and white against the gray sky, I let out a deep sigh, feeling enormously sorry for myself. I eyeballed the dilapidated warehouse across the parking lot that was hanging onto the edge of the pier for any signs of life. I didn’t find any.
I knew I was in trouble earlier when I discovered that this was the only vantage point from which I could stay hidden and still see the “perpetrator’s place of entrance,” as I once heard on Law and Order. That meant I couldn’t stay in my nice, warm car listening to a Fats Waller tribute on the radio but had to be out in the elements, hunkered down next to a useless seawall.
For three lousy hours, rambunctious waves from the San Francisco Bay made a break for freedom over this wall and won. Salty foam and spray pummeled my face, mixed with mascara, and stung my eyes like nobody’s business. Then the wind picked up and the temperature dropped faster than the Dow Jones on a bad day.
Speeding up Highway 101 toward Fisherman’s Wharf, I’d heard on the car radio that a storm was moving in. When I arrived, I got to experience it first hand. Yes, it was just winter and me on the San Francisco Bay. Even Jonathan Livingston Seagull had taken a powder.
I concentrated on one of two warehouses, mirrors of each other, sitting at either side of a square parking lot containing about twenty cars and trucks. “Dios mio, do something,” I muttered to the building that housed the man who had caused me to age about twenty years in one afternoon.
I struggled to stay in a crouched position, gave up and sat down, thinking about the man I’d been following. I was sure he was a lot more comfortable than I and I resented him for it. Two seconds later, I realized the cement was wet, as well as cold. Cursing my stupidity, I jumped up and stretched my cramped legs while trying to keep an eye on the door he had entered, lo those many hours before. With me being the only one on the job, I couldn’t keep an eye on the cargo bay on the other side of the warehouse but I felt pretty safe about it being a non-exit. Without a boat or a ship tied there, it emptied into the briny bay. The perp, thankfully, didn’t look like much of a swimmer, even on a nice day.
I tried to focus my mind on Mr. Portor Wyler, said perpetrator, and the singular reason for all my misery. I kept coming back to this burning question: why the hell was a Palo Alto real estate mogul driving 42-miles roundtrip two to three times a week to a beat-up, San Francisco warehouse on the waterfront?
After that one, I had an even better question: what the hell was I doing here? Oh, yeah. Thanks, Mom.
My name is Liana Alvarez. It’s Lee to my friends, but never to my mother. I am a thirty-four year old half-Latina and half-WASP PI. The latter, aforesaid relatives drip with blue blood and blue chips, and have been Bay Area fixtures for generations. Regarding the kindred Mexican half of me, they either immigrated to the good old US of A or still live in Vera Cruz, where they fish the sea. How my mother and father ever got together is something I’ve been meaning to ask Cupid for some time.
However, I digress. Back to Portor Wyler or, rather, his wife, Yvette Wyler. It was because of her I was in possession of a cold, wet butt, although I’m not supposed to use language like that because Mom would be scandalized. She had this idea she raised me to be a lady and swears her big mistake was letting me read Dashiell Hammett when I was an impressionable thirteen year old.
My mother is Lila Hamilton Alvarez, of the blue blood part of the family, and CEO of Discretionary Investigations, Inc. She was and is my boss. Yvette Wyler had been a friend of my mother’s since Hector was a pup, so when Mrs. Wyler came crying to her, Mom thought we should be the ones to find out what was going on. That didn’t seem like a good enough reason for me to be where I was, assigned to a job so distasteful no self-respecting gumshoe I hung out with would touch it, but there you have it. Leave it to my mother to lay a guilt trip on me at one of my more vulnerable times. I don’t know who I was more annoyed with, Mom or me.
Furthermore, I had no idea what my intelligent, savvy and glamorous mother had in common with this former school chum, who had the personality of ragweed and a face reminiscent of a Shar-Pei dog I knew once. Whenever I brought the subject up to Mom, I got claptrap about “loyalty” and “friends being friends.” So naturally, my reaction to the woman made me aware of possible character flaws on my part. I mean, here Mrs. Wyler was, one of my mother’s best friends, and I was just waiting for her to bark.