Despite a rather dark and grim cover that had me expecting blood and gore, this is a funny and sweetly off-center mystery. Gloria Ferris’ central character is Bliss Cornwall, a woman who works several jobs to afford the rent on her crummy trailer after being thrown out on her ear by her ex. She refers to her ex as “the Weasel,” and he seems to richly deserve it. Her next-door neighbor is a working hooker and her other neighbors bear even less scrutiny.
Bliss frequently does odd jobs for her cousin, Dougal, an agoraphobe, while also scoring whatever food is in his fridge. Dougal is a botanist and his greenhouse contains a Titan Arum, a rare “corpse flower.” Corpse flowers bloom only every few years (sometimes taking as long as ten years between blooms), so Dougal is thrilled that his corpse flower, Thor, is blooming. Dougal’s ex, Glory, happens to own another corpse flower, also blooming, and Dougal asks Bliss to be the go-between so the plants can be pollinated. He’s offering $1,000, something Bliss can’t refuse.
Bliss also works at the cemetery, raking and maintaining the grounds, and when her boss is found dead, things get complicated. Another dead body later and Bliss is on speaking, though not necessarily friendly terms, with the local police chief, Neil Redfern. Bliss treats almost everyone with suspicion thanks to her experience with the Weasel. She thinks Redfern is up to no good and does her level best to foil both the police and the bad guys.
Bliss also seems to encounter marijuana everywhere she turns—from Dougal and Glory’s greenhouses to her own aptly named neighborhood of Hemp Hollow. It’s actually the thread that ties the story together—in this novel it’s not cherchez la femme, it’s cherchez le marijuana.
While this plot may sound complicated and Bliss a tad cranky, this is actually a rollicking blast of an adventure story. Ferris certainly has the narrative chops to keep a reader’s interest. Bliss herself is an illustration of what happens to women thrown out on their own with nowhere to go. It's a good look at contemporary mores, and Ferris has a subtle eye and a light touch. All in all, a very enjoyable read.