2014; 338 pages. Book 6 (out of 8) of the “Hetta Coffey” series. New Author? : Yes. Genre : Crime Mystery; Humor. Overall Rating : 7½*/10.
Hetta Coffey is going to a party. And a posh affair it’s going to be, too. Which is quite unusual, given the locale is the Baja California peninsula of Mexico. Hetta’s going as the guest of her best bud, Jan, who’s been hired for the night by the host of the party, a chap named Hiro Ishikawa.
Ishikawa’s paying Jan to be his “escort” during the party. Hmm. That sounds like there’s some strings attached. Bedroom strings. But Jan assures Hetta that no such extracurricular activity is included. Instead, Ishikawa will be paying her $50,000 just to be his companion as he mingles with the partygoers, with the money going towards funding Jan’s boyfriend’s search for a sunken galleon.
Man, that seems an exorbitant price to pay for one night’s worth of “everything’s above the board” escorting, doesn’t it? Is Ishikawa out of his mind?!
Well yes, as a matter of fact, he is. Actually, he’s completely out of his head. Someone has just decapitated him.
What’s To Like...
I liked the setting for Just Needs Killin’: everything takes place in various towns and marinas up and down the two sides of Baja California.. A lot of it is aboard Hetta’s modestly-sized yacht. The author’s Amazon blurb indicates she lives on a boat in the same area, and the literary maxim of “write about what you’re familiar with” is put to good use here.
There are some Japanese phrases thrown in, which I thought was kewl since I know virtually no Japanese. And some Spanish as well, which I have some familiarity with. I learned what a “panga” and a “hotel de paso” are, and appreciated the brief tip-of-the hat to the Kingston Trio, one of my favorite folk groups. Also, I thoroughly liked the fact that Hetta's an engineer by vocation, even more so that she’s probably a chemical engineer who until recently was working with a copper mine in Mexico. My company in real life sells chemicals to copper mines in Mexico, so this was a pleasant, unlooked-for tie-in.
The story is written in the first-person POV, and Hetta reminded me a lot of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum. This POV means, however, that a lot of the action – the killings and abductions, for instance – takes place off-stage, so the book verges on being a cozy. To boot, there is a lot of over-the-top stuff: things like a secret corridor on a boat (huh?), a bad guy brandishing a rather non-lethal weapon and hoping no one notices (oh, come on, now), and the whole idea of two little amateur ladies deciding to take out a Mexican gangster on his home turf (don’t try this in real life). However, it’s no more far-fetched than the stuff Clive Cussler writes, so if Dirk Pitt’s your idea of a hero, you’ll probably enjoy meeting Hetta Coffey.
Just Needs Killin’ is a standalone novel while also part of a series. This was my first Hetta Coffey novel, but I didn’t feel like I missed much by not having read the first five books. The pacing is fast, the dialogues are amusing, and there were no slow spots. It’s all about the action.
Kewlest New Word…
Panga (n.) : a modest-sized, open, outboard-powered fishing boat common throughout much of the developing world.
“Now, there you go, I am no longer a witness, but a full fledged co-conspirator.”
I gave her a high-five. “Thelma and Louise!”
“Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid!”
“Bonnie and Clyde!”
Jan lost her grin. “Uh, Hetta. Didn’t all of them, like, die?”
“We all die.” (loc. 1869)
“You two lost another anchor?” Chino said at dinner that evening.
“Lost is such a harsh word.”
Chino grinned at me. “What word would you use to describe cutting two anchor lines in less than two months?”
“Uh, temporarily misplaced?” One thing for sure, both anchors were incriminating evidence that we were somewhere we were not supposed to be. “You can dock my pay.”
“You aren’t getting paid.”
“See, problem solved.” (loc. 3579)
Just Needs Killin’ sells for $3.99 at Amazon, which is the standard price for all of Jinx Schwartz’s e-books, including the other seven books in the series, and two other books outside of it. The 8-book Hetta Coffey series is also available as two 4-book bundles for $9.99 each, which is a nice bit of savings if you intend to read the whole set.
“When seconds count, the cops are only minutes away.” (loc. 1184)
There are a couple quibbles. I struggled to determine the overall plotline. It seemed like it couldn’t make up its mind what it wanted to be. The story starts out as a murder-mystery, but that fades away, its place is taken by a plot concocted by the heroes to kill the big bad baddie. Soon afterward, it moves on to “find the treasure”, then pops back to kill the baddie again, and finally switches to a “find a different treasure” theme. Mixed into this was a “what to do about dear Aunt Lillian” tangent which never did seem to have any impact on any of the other plotlines.
All this hopping around of the storylines made for a rather disjointed read. But I’m new to the series, so maybe this is the norm for a Hetta Coffey tale.
Then there was the repeated use of ethnic-based wit. Mexicans and Japanese get stereotyped to death, and even Canadians get poked fun at on one occasion (40% Kindle). I recognize that some ethnic bantering is inevitable in a setting like this one, but does it have to be the major source of wit? I’d think Hetta would have a greater appreciation of Mexican culture, being immersed in it as she is.
7½ Stars. Setting the quibbles aside, I found Just Needs Killin’ to be a fast-moving, fun, light read, one that’s ideal for an afternoon at the beach or for a stretch on an airplane. For me personally, it was the perfect reading balance as I continue to slog my way through Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity‘s Rainbow opus.