“Welcome to my Website — Where Anything Goes!” says regional author Charlotte Hughes. And it’s not just online that “anything goes;” it’s also within the pages of Hughes’ addictive Kate Holly mystery novels, which the author called her “Crazy series.”
Kate Holly is a psychologist who is surrounded by people with issues not just in her practice but also in her personal life. There’s Kate’s mother (Dixie) and Dixie’s twin sister (Trixie) who run an antiques business and keep their noses in Kate’s life as much as possible. There’s Kate’s transgendered patient Arnell who has moved in with Dixie and Trixie; Kate’s shallow but good looking ex-boyfriend/current coworker, Thad, who maintains more than a professional interest. There’s Kate’s well-dressed and overly dramatic secretary Mona. And there’s Kate’s fireman husband Jay who is a great catch if only he wasn’t always in danger due to his job.
Kate herself is the first to admit she doesn’t have it all figured out. “There is no such thing as normal,” she insists at the beginning of Hughes’ most recent Crazy installment, High Anxiety, just released by the Jove imprint. “I’m obsessive-compulsive. It started when I was ten years old, shortly after the death of my father, a fireman who never made it out of a burning building. To keep from thinking about it, I started counting things because I was really good at counting.”
Don’t let that passage lead you to believe Anxiety is a serious book or that it’s the tidy work of an obsessive mind set upon putting things straight. Instead, Kate’s life seems to be in constant disarray and equally constant motion. The trouble starts in this novel when Kate agrees to moderate an anger management group. Things quickly spiral out of hand when an elderly lady with a walker pulls a pistol from her purse and inadvertently shoots a picture of Jesus. Soon, it’s all over the news that Kate herself is a non-believer.
“I awoke Saturday morning to the sound of gospel music. I buried my head under a pillow but could not drown it out. I looked at the alarm clock. Six a.m. Finally, I staggered from the bed, pulled the curtain aside, and found Brother Love sitting in a lawn chair in my front yard, a boom box beside him blaring ‘What A Friend We Have in Jesus.’”
That’s chaotic enough, but when Kate’s secretary Mona contracts a rash and must miss work, Kate has to hire a temp who turns out to (as the Free To Be You and Me songs goes) the kind of help we all can do without.
“I reached the office the next morning and stopped short when I saw Abigail’s outfit,” Kate says of her new assistant. “It was the exact one I’d worn the day before.”
And that’s only the beginning of Abigail’s weirdness, though with a family reunion, Jay fighting a forest fire in Florida, Mona’s mysterious illness, a senior citizen who Dixie and Trixie have taken under wing, a patient with multiple personality disorder and a church group determined to save Kate, there’s barely time for the psychologist to deal with a copy-cat temp.
Anxiety is engaging and fast paced; a great escapist read to distract from cold wintery days. It’s also a bit manic at times. Dialog tends toward the cliche and there’s the sense that Hughes threw in every crackpot character she could dream up — and then some. Anxiety, billed as “A Kate Holly Case,” is indeed a mystery but not in the Miss Marple sense. Don’t expect to find clues among the pages — this is a case that unravels in its own sweet time and my unorthodox means. But the ending is satisfying and the journey to that conclusion is a fun, if unwieldy, trip.
Charlotte Hughes will read in and around Asheville on the following dates:
• Waldenbooks (1800 4 Seasons Blvd., Hendersonville, 692-4957) on Tuesday, Feb. 24, noon-3 p.m.
• Malaprop’s (55 Haywood St., Asheville, 254-6734) on Sunday, Mar. 29, 2-4 p.m.
—Alli Marshall, A&E reporter