The marvelous title of this book may mislead some, so let me say right off the bat that if you're looking for titillating details to enhance your intimate life, this is not another guide to the joys of sex. Remember the "Nice Ladies" of the title. This novel is much more than that—a book that combines women's fiction and cozy mystery, a book for those who treasure the look and feel of an old and revered book, one for those concerned with women's health and longings, and those interested in ancient herbal remedies...and poisons. Even goat farms, if your taste runs that way—or the Chaos Theory.
Before I opened the book, I expected a book club of at least a dozen or more. Not so. Three women comprise the Erotica Book Club for Nice Ladies: Lily, newly fired from the rare book collection of the Groverly (CA) library in an economic cutback, recently underwent a double mastectomy, beautifully masked by gorgeous tattoos, but she feels she will no longer be attractive to men; Aggie, a widowed elderly gypsy woman who fiercely misses her lifetime mate and their nights of passion; and Piper, who has moved out of the conjugal bedroom lest husband Freddy find the breast lump she has discovered. Each has her reason for choosing erotic titles, when Lily sudden appears in the small town of Nolan, California with the bookmobile she impulsively bought and loaded with her personal library. Her intent is to travel from town to town: she never makes it beyond Nolan, where she becomes enmeshed in the life of the community and in the book club.
The Chaos Theory runs like a thread through this story—a dust storm in Mozambique kicks up winds that head for California; a Monarch butterfly swarm spawns an event elsewhere on the globe. The incident that starts the story occurs in sixteenth-century Alsace when the Duchess of Jardin pens a note to her son making him keeper of the legendary Book of Cures, which contains both cures and poisons.
Fast forward to contemporary times when Lily McFae's last act as archival librarian at the Groverly library is to arrange an exhibit of twenty rare books from the Global Antiquarian Society. The Jardin book, kept safely locked away, is NOT part of the exhibit. Yet it is included and then stolen, with accusatory fingers pointed at Lily, who is no longer with the library. Several people in Nolan know of the book's estimated value of one million dollars. But who murdered the current Duke of Jardin, grabbed the book, and slipped it into the exhibit? By various means—some accidental, some deliberate—the reader ends up playing the game of "Book, book, who's got the book?" as it changes hands several times.
Nolan has close to the strangest oddball citizens of any small town in fictional history: Boris, who runs the Emporium, is expert with swords and does tattoos on the side; Maxine and Sax, twins who run the Used Stuff Store and are at odds with each other more than not; Llewelyn Blanding, the drug salesman who offers to pay a million for the book so he can show his brother he can improve Neubland Pharmaceuticals; Aggie's nephew, Griffo, who is among other things a failed sword swallower and who steals precious belongings from his aunt, robbing her of the opportunity to carry out Gypsy traditional grieving rituals. Most of the above covet the Book of Cures, and each for a time possesses it. Minnesota Fiddler, an apparently homeless woman, wants to recover not the book but a stash of coins hidden in Lila's bookmobile. Everyone has nefarious intentions, except perhaps Jeremy, who tends bar at the Hopper, local hangout, and Freddy, Piper's husband who is utterly confused by the sudden change in his wife.
And then there's Hugh Jamison, that luscious detective from Groverly who only wants to return the book to the Jardin estate in Alsace and who finds Lily as attractive as she find him. Suffice it to say, the night the two finally confess their attractions, the power in Nolan goes out several times. The Chaos theory.
You have to pay close attention in this book, not only to find out where the Book of Cures is now but to keep track of who's who. Various shifts in point of view, usually at the end of the chapter, keep you alert. It all means something—a cosmic world view, if you will—but you have to keep on top of it.
For those who are still interested in erotica, here are some of the classics Lily refers to over and over: Emily Dickinson's poem, "Wild night—wild nights"; Boccaccio's The Decameron; Venus in India, by Charles Devereaux; and George Sands' Lelia. A helpful list in the back of the book suggests more titles.
Writers of women's fiction, especially cozy mysteries, are constantly urged to "think outside the box" but when they do, agents and editors are often quick to admire the work but protest that they cannot sell it. Kudos to Connie Spittler for creating a work that is truly original and delightful but not, as too many mysteries are, a quick, casual read with the villain obvious half way through; and kudos to River Junction Press of Omaha for taking a chance on this novel. With a title like The Erotica Book Club for Nice Ladies, how can they lose?
Read an excerpt from this book.
(See another review of this book, here)
Connie Spittler, the author of several nonfiction books and essays, studied Radio, TV, Communications at Creighton University and worked as a writer/producer, receiving a Clio and other national recognition. She taught writing at the University of Arizona Writing Center. She and her husband live in Omaha, NE. Visit her website.
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