I liked the look of the cover and the blurb sounded thoroughly intriguing. While I probably wouldn’t have wanted to pick up a murder mystery set in the early stages of lockdown last year, now those weird days of 2020 seem such a very long time ago. What I hadn’t appreciated is that this is the fourth book in the series.
BLURB: March 2020 and Operation Cocker is a go! The owners of the Last Ditch Motel, with a little help from their friend Lexy Campbell, are preparing to support one another through the oncoming lockdown, offering the motel’s spare rooms to a select few from the local area in need of sanctuary.
While the newbies are settling in, an ambiguous banner appears demanding one of them return home. But who is it for? Lexy and her friends put a plan into action to ward off the perpetrator, but the very next night, a resident disappears and a message scrawled in human blood is found. As California shuts down, the Last Ditchers make another gruesome discovery. They tried to create a haven but now it seems as if everyone’s in danger. Is the motel under attack from someone on the outside? Scary as that is, the alternative is worse by far.
REVIEW: Despite this being the fourth book in the series, this was my first foray into Lexy’s quirky world of eccentrics who all, for one reason or another, fall outside what society regards as the norm. Lexy, a Scot who has relatively recently arrived in California is the first person protagonist in this irreverent and unusual murder mystery. Noleen and her wife, Kathi, who is also a compulsive cleaner, are worried that the authorities will force them to hand over The Last Ditch Motel and Skweeky-Cleen laundrette as part of the national emergency sweeping across the country in the face of the looming pandemic. So Lexy comes up with a solution – fill the rooms with relatives of front-line workers who want to shield their families from possible infection. Or those who will be particularly vulnerable, which includes her boyfriend’s blind mother. In amongst those who are keen to move in are two spouses enduring physical and emotional abuse, along with two very small children. In fact, they end up with twelve adults and five children keen to join in their lockdown before it actually becomes a legal requirement. Meanwhile, Lexy is living a short distance away in her houseboat, which is connected to the motel by barbed wire fencing.
While the murder mystery certainly provides much of the narrative drive, the interaction between the guests and their unfolding stories also keeps the pages turning. McPherson’s humour ranges from pure farce, to witty wordplay and plenty of enjoyable snark. I was grinning while reading and on occasions laughed out loud. But what I loved most is the amount of heart and warmth in amongst the smart cynicism. Though this is a story about betrayal leading to murder, it is also a book about love and acceptance – though you won’t catch Lexy putting it in those terms. This noisy and extended found family all have their problems, and while there are irritations on a day to day level – providing much of the mayhem and hilarity that runs throughout the book – there is a basic fund of good will that is the bedrock of this small community.
So a murder that might incriminate one of the people living in the motel immediately undermines that cohesion and Lexy is determined to discover the culprit as fast as possible. As this is the fourth book in the series, she and her companions have a track record in solving murders – something the local police officer is determined won’t happen again. I liked how the stakes were raised in this story and I particularly enjoyed how the murder was solved. McPherson clearly has a profound understanding of how people tick, managing to keep a strong sense of compassion along with the humour, which is far harder to pull off than she makes it look. This might have been my first experience of McPherson’s writing, but it certainly won’t be my last. Very highly recommended. While I obtained an arc of Scot Mist from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.