Though I’ve never met novelist Charlotte Hughes, I suspect that she’s energetic to the point of perky mania—that she’s one of those women who hits the ground running each morning, gets more done by noon than most of us accomplish in a week, and talks at super-speed while still managing to fit in snappy one-liners. I imagine her as the Kelly Rippa of the literary world.
Of course, all of this speculation is based on Hughes’ voice in her latest novel, Nutcase (Jove, 2009) only on bookstore shelves for the past month. The book is billed as “A Kate Holly Case,” the second in a series about 30-something psychologist Kate Holly. But the “case” part is kind of misleading—yes, there are elements of a mystery in the story (in this installment, Kate’s estranged husband—fire chief Jay—is being targeted by an arsonist while Kate and her girl Friday—receptionist Mona—deal with a bi-polar client impersonating Marie Osmond) there are no clues, no detective, no “ah hah!” moment.
What Nutcase can boast is a fast-faced, funny, warm and quirky story. In fact, the whole baffling, whirl-wind plot spans a single week. And, arsonist and Marie Osmond aside, Kate also rubs elbows with a lecherous ex, a transgendered former-G.I. with a penchant for sequins, an elderly dog lover who attempts to heal Kate’s dog with deep tissue massage and pot brownies, and the antics of her colorful mother and aunt—Trixie and Dixie. And really, that’s not even the half of it.
The review copy of Nutcase that landed on my desk is a proof, which means I can’t quote from it, but rest assured it’s a breathless romp from cover to cover. The perfect beach or airplane read, Nutcase throws endless detail at the reader but little of it requires retention. The affect is less whodunit and more of a catchup session with a jabbery girlfriend—one prone to drama and misadventure.
Nutcase runs about 250 pages, much of it dialog (this reader inhaled it in a few hours). The book has a certain fluffiness borrowed from Hughes’ previous turn as a romance novelist (she has a remarkable 29 titles to her credit, and also co-authors with Janet Evanovich) but steers away from bodice ripping territory. Instead, the character of Kate Holly is grounded, likable and relatable. She’s over-worked and could use some direction in her life—not to mention some good relationship advice—but who among us hasn’t been in those shoes? And that’s ultimately why Nutcase works.
Charlotte Hughes kicks off the author events series at the newly-opened Asheville Barnes & Nobel (3 Tunnel Rd. at the Asheville Mall) on Sunday, Mar. 29. 2-4 p.m.
—Alli Marshall, A&E reporter