Thursday, January 23, 2020

Book Review: 'Wolf (A Jessica James Mystery, #1)' by Kelly Oliver

Wolf by Kelly  Oliver

‘Dirty office, dirty mind’

Tennessee author Kelly Oliver earned her degrees from Gonzaga University and Northwestern University and is a Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Vanderbilt University. She has published numerous articles on such important issues as the refugee crisis, reproductive technologies, campus rape, women and the media, the environment, and animals in The New York Times and The Los Angeles Review of Books, as well as being featured on ABC news, CSPAN books, and the Canadian Broadcasting Network. Her published books include both non-fiction and children’s, young adult, and adult fiction such as this highly awarded Jessica James Mystery series, of which WOLF is Book 1. She lives in Nashville.

In establishing a lead character for a projected series, Kelly wisely and gradually opens this new saga with an inviting portrait of her Jessica James – ‘Lying atop a desk in an otherwise empty attic, Jessica James gnawed on her jagged fingernail and wondered how her first year in graduate school had become such a tinderbox. She closed her eyes and imagined a fitting demise for the thesis advisor whose Birkenstocks had stomped on her dream of getting an advanced degree: a quick defenestration, a slow poison, or a hard bludgeon to his fat ugly head with the blunt side of an axe. Professor Baldrick Wolfgang Schmutzig, “Preeminent Philosopher” and World-Class Dickhead. The wolf had insulted her for the last time.’ Jessica’s quirky personality unfolds, and we discover the professor is the Wolf of the series!

Kelly’s writing style is a fine blend of raw humor with tense tale spinning that makes this mystery series opener a complete pleasure to read: laugh a lot at her language choices and similes while deeply inhaling her well-paced mystery. She provides a very succinct and useful summary invitation into her world – ‘You can take the girl out of the trailer park, but you can't take the trailer park out of the girl! Jessica James is broke and counting down the days until she can defend her philosophy thesis. Desperate to get out of her grubby attic digs, she and her friends break into her professor’s office… only to find her adviser dead in the tub. Scoping the crime scene for clues, she leaves evidence that makes her both a suspect and a target. Suspecting the school's Russian janitor of doing more than sweeping the floors, Jessica mounts an investigation to clear her name. And when her ragtag posse helps her uncover a related date drug scandal, repeated attempts on her drink make her fear she’s the next on the killer’s to-do list. Can Jessica unmask the murderer before her degree gets buried six-feet-under?’

Kelly Oliver continues to grow as one of our more important authors today – that rare ability to focus our attention on social matters, while at the same time offering novels such as this very fine one to enhance our reading pleasures and entertainment. Very highly recommended. 

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.