Shelly Fredman,
Brandy Alexander #3: No Such Thing as a Free Lunch
(Aquinas & Krone, 2008)

Brandy Alexander (bran'de al'ig zan'der): n. 1. an alcoholic beverage consisting of brandy, dark creme de cacao and heavy cream; the mixture is strained, poured into a chilled cocktail glass, and often topped with sprinkles of nutmeg. 2. a slightly nutty Philadelphia native and investigative news reporter who takes justice into her own hands and who thrives on danger, friendship, love and chocolate TastyKake cupcakes (sometimes simultaneously).

This third episode of the Brandy Alexander mysteries finds our young heroine again in the thick of things. She's landed a job at the local cable TV news station as a "puff piece" reporter, which was what she did when she lived out in California. But she longs to get into the investigative side of the business, just like her WINN colleague Tamra Rhineholt. It's funny: Brandy occasionally gets mistaken for Tamra, especially when she's seen from behind. That wouldn't be so bad if it wasn't painfully obvious that somebody wants to scare Tamra or even do her ultimate harm. Brandy is kidnapped by accident; and soon after her release, she finds Tamra's dead body, an apparent suicide. But is it? If the woman didn't check herself out, who did? Was she a victim of a troubled marriage? Or had she discovered information during the course of an investigation that put her life in jeopardy?

Naturally, Brandy immediately jumps into the deep end in an attempt to learn not only the details of Tamra's death but also the implications of the last story the newswoman was working on: the guilt or innocence of a death-row inmate. The clock is ticking. Can Brandy unravel all the knots before David Dwayne Harmon is executed?

As usual, Brandy is supported in her efforts by her devoted friends Franny, Janine and John. They don't help her much, but they listen. That goes for her cat Rocky and her dog Adrian, too. At the same time, Brandy chooses to ignore the sage advice of Robert "Bobby" DiCarlo (a cop who is also her former boyfriend) and street-smart bad boy Nick Santiago, who both warn her not to get involved in such nastiness. She blatantly disregards their pleas -- and gets the injuries to prove it -- even while she knows that she's falling in love with both of them. Bobby's new availability lends an interesting prospect to his concerns. Nick is the most gorgeous man on the planet. And as if Brandy doesn't have enough to deal with: her parents are headed up from Florida to intrude on her life and to attend her grown brother's bar mitzvah. Does the woman ever get a minute to herself?

Author Shelly Fredman has hit her stride with this one. Once the plot gets underway, No Such Thing as a Free Lunch is a fast-paced and gripping mystery. It's far from a "cozy," given how often Brandy dives into grave situations and gets beaten up because of her inquisitive nature. Thank goodness she's a fictitious character and a tough Philly chick to boot; she'd be dead, otherwise. If she were still living in California, she could compare bruises with Sue Grafton's Kinsey Millhone.

The timing and action of this book follow tight on the heels of the previous two volumes (No Such Thing as a Secret and No Such Thing as a Good Blind Date), leaving Brandy -- and us -- intellectually and physically exhausted. Perhaps we'll get some time to breathe and to digest the latest developments before the fourth episode shows up. Would ya pass the cupcakes, please?

review by
Corinne H. Smith

1 November 2008

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