It was a hell of a long shot.... CIA assassin Fortune Redding is about to undertake her most difficult mission ever - in Sinful, Louisiana. With a leak at the CIA and a price placed on her head by one of the world's largest arms dealers, Fortune has to go off-grid, but she never expected to be this far out of her element. Posing as a former beauty queen turned librarian in a small bayou town seems worse than death to Fortune, but she's determined to fly below the radar until her boss finds the leak and puts the arms dealer out of play. Unfortunately, she hasn't even unpacked a suitcase before her newly inherited dog digs up a human bone in her backyard. Thrust into the middle of a bayou murder mystery, Fortune teams up with a couple of seemingly sweet old ladies whose looks completely belie their hold on the little town. To top things off, the handsome local deputy is asking her too many questions. If she's not careful, this investigation might blow her cover and get her killed. Armed with her considerable skills and a group of elderly ladies the locals dub the Geritol Mafia, Fortune has no choice but to solve the murder before it's too late.
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I have to start with the narration: Cassandra Campbell has never been anywhere near Louisiana bayou country. In the first place, “Louisiana” is pronounced with only four syllables: loo-zee-anna. Nobody, I mean nobody in bayou country sounds like any of these people. They don’t have stereotypical southern accents (if anyone anywhere does). And you don’t pronounce the “c” in LeBlanc (like a Mont Blanc pen). And that’s just for starters. Why can’t ANYBODY take the trouble to look up the pronunciation of Atchafalaya? Sheesh, can’t these people at least listen to a tape or something before they try to represent an ethnic group? At least listen to Will Paton narrate the Dave Robicheaux books. Louisiana accents are as varied as New York City accents, so most of us are going to quibble with any not exactly like what we grew up with, but Paton gets it close enough, soft enough to be generally pleasing and worth emulating. I don’t expect a “foreign” character to get it right, but she would at least hear people pronouncing their own names correctly.
Okay, now that I’ve gotten that out of my system: treat this as a fantasy set in some mythical location that just happens to have the same name as our beloved state, and then it becomes truly silly mind candy – not very nutritious but hey, dessert isn’t supposed to be. Worth the listen just for the wonderful neighbor, Gerty, with whom I immediately fell in love. And having been raised Southern Baptist in South Louisiana, I laughed out loud at the mere mention of Sinful Baptist Church with its group of Sinful Ladies. The ladies are what makes the book such a joy. And this is a book about strong, funny women. The men are strictly background noise.
The main character is, well, not even vaguely believable. A CIA assassin who’s squeamish about sleeping in a dead woman’s bed and can’t keep her mouth shut to maintain a cover identity two hours into town? And puh-leeeze, you might find a town called Sinful somewhere out west, but NEVER in Louisiana – the culture is much too religious to play games with something like that. Much more likely to have a saint’s name. Alright, author Jana DeLeon is from the western side of South Louisiana, not quite as Catholic as you get closer to Texas. Let it go; it’s like the accents - if you treat this as pure farce, it doesn’t matter.
So why did I get such a kick out of this piece of fluff? Because what Jana DeLeon got right is the quirky sense of humor of the Cajun culture, which they have generously shared so that it is pervasive throughout the state (at least the southern half). Never give a straight answer if you can think of a sarcastic one. Never tell the straight truth if you can think of a more interesting “story”. This is not called lying; everyone recognizes it for what it is and plays along. “Is that illegal here?” “Only on Tuesdays. Unless there’s a full moon.”
And then there are the “pudding wars” – oh, yes, I have lived multiple versions of this game. In most places it was called “beat the Baptists”. If you don’t already know what that means, listen to the book and prepare to laugh. I you do know, you’ll laugh out loud at the version played in Sinful. DeLeon reeled me in completely when she got to the description of the ramshackle “camp” on Number Two. Yes, this is called “fun” in the Sportsman’s Paradise. No spoilers, but let’s just say that the bayous, waterways, buildings, and (oh my, yes) the bar “out in the parish” (as opposed to in town) are wonderfully accurate.
I’m not rating this on literary merit but on how much fun I had listening to it. To be honest, I listened while sick in bed, in no mood to be “challenged” in any way. I will definitely listen to the next book in the series; hope it continues to delight. Four stars for story, a grudging two for narration because I have heard worse.
Finding Miss Fortune was a happy accident. While a fan of Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum, I gave up on Evanovich's audio books because the reader is so awful (and so NOT New Jersey). Jana DeLeon's Miss Fortune is equally silly, but the character line-up of Fortune, Ida Belle, Gertie, Carter LeBlanc and the rest are so appealing that you find yourself willingly going along for the ride with their hairbrained antics. The narrator (voice actor) Cassandra Campbell does a great job of capturing each character uniquely in all the southern glory. The books are not 'deep' and Fortune, however much she may be conflicted about being an assassin is no "troubled soul." She is more of the "woman with a gun" model who's ready to lock and load and take on any challenge. In a bizarre kind of way, given that few of us are trained in armed combat, sharp-shooting or other deadly arts, Fortune is very endearing and a little inspiring. I love that her two best friends are octogenarians. Gertie is forever the comic relief (sometimes to overkill), but the real trump card for me is Ida Belle. The characterizations, between the text and skill of the narrator, quickly engage your imagination and empathy and are hugely enjoyable. Read them in order as the story progresses. They are terrific long car-ride or computer (or walk the dog) books. I'm a fan of the Miss Fortune series, but could not make the leap to DeLeon's Mud Bug series which had too much romance and silly, not enough character development.