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The Corpse with the Turquoise Toes by Cathy Ace

Reviewed by Wendy Hawkin

Welsh-Canadian crime aficionado, Cathy Ace, has been writing up a storm—in this case, a veritable dust storm—featuring her mystery-solving avatar, Cait Morgan. In Book Twelve, the criminal psychologist and her ex-RCMP husband, Bud, fly to Arizona as guests-of-honour of the Desert Gem, a posh new restaurant run by their sweet chef-friend, Serendipity Soul.

This is my favourite Cait Morgan crime romp for a few reasons.

Landscape. The landscape truly becomes a character in this novel. This story really couldn’t be set anywhere else. Before heading to the Desert Gem, Cait and Bud tour Frank Lloyd Wright’s desert oasis, Taliesin West with its “emerald grass and turquoise waters . . . rust-coloured paint . . . and saguaro cactus.” The Sonoran Desert in Arizona is a stunning location, rife with its own mythology, and like the infamous Sedona, attracts artists and eccentrics.

Imagination. Linda, leader of the Faceting for Life movement is the personification of a Navajo Goddess, the Turquoise Woman, right down to her turquoise toes. She actually dips her feet in dye weekly to keep them that way. She wears turquoise robes, and her dig is decorated in real turquoise. Linda is the cult leader until she’s discovered dead in her bed from an apparent, elaborate suicide. Zara then assumes her mother’s position and channels her dead father, Demetrius Karaplis. Ace’s foray into cult research is obvious—“let’s not drink the Kool-Aid”—but feathered by her brilliant imagination. The devotees “sway and hiss” their mantra, “Facet and Face It,” while Ace deepens our experience with an exploration of the “fourteen Critical Facets,” terms such as “buffing” (of the facets), and the billion-dollar business buffed by Zara using her father’s words.

Language. Speaking of words, Ace obviously had tons of fun naming her characters and acknowledges that several of the names pay homage to literary friends including KSue, Dru Ann, and Linda Karaplis. Chapter titles are a witty smorgasbord of oxymorons—“Serene Turbulence, Rustic Elegance, Unsettled Settling, Abnormally Normal,” and my favourite, “Uncommunicative Communicator.” We all know one of those.

The faceting language sets us squarely inside the cult. And, if that’s not enough, the text is peppered with unexpected terms and Britishisms (I’m unsure as to which are which) to remind us that both Ace and her counterpart, Cait Morgan, grew up in Wales—“chalk and cheese, mugged a salute, kerfuffle, slanging, yompy, lumpen substance.” Sleepy Bud makes “truffling” noises and Cait wears white “spudgy” shoes. Ace’s affinity with language surprises, delights and leaves us craving more.

Eco-everything. The Desert Gem is created in “pueblo revival architectural style” and illuminated by dancing flames of fire bowls around a central plaza. No electric lights are permitted after dark in this Earth-conscious community. Facetors and visitors live in small simple “digs” circling the plaza. Ace invites us into Cait and Bud’s dig with a vivid description that has me, for one, wanting to travel south. The Desert Gem is an eco-testament with a solar farm, waste-water treatment area, bio-digester, gardens, pool, amphitheatre, communications hub and refectory. Who wouldn’t want to stay awhile and buff their facets?

It’s all well and good until the bodies start piling up—all apparent suicides of major faceting players.

If you haven’t read any of Cathy Ace’s cozies, Turquoise Toes is a great place to begin. Each can be read alone, but your appreciation of Cait and Bud can be enriched by living their adventures in sequence. Cait is a strong, independent woman gifted with an eidetic (photographic) memory which allows her to decimate the villains triumphantly in her big reveal. Ace really kicks it up a notch in Turquoise Toes.

The Corpse with the Turquoise Toes is published by Four Tails Publishing.

W. L. Hawkin’s latest release, Lure: Jesse & Hawk is a small-town romantic suspense novel set on a Chippewa reservation in the American Midwest. She publishes with Blue Haven Press.

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