Jana Bommersbach's new mystery, Funeral Hotdish, is interesting for several reasons. The author is a Phoenix journalist who broke the story that Sammy "The Bull" Gravano, the Mafia soldier who ratted out John Giotti and who was supposed to be safely stashed away in
Her mystery features a Phoenix journalist, Joya Bonner, who discovers that Sammy "The Bull" Gravano is signing autographs in Tempe and the tragic death of a North Dakota high school girl who has a bad reaction to the drug Ecstasy (or Molly). So Bommersbach, writing about what she knows, weaves living people, actual events, and invented characters into a plausible and satisfying story.
Funeral Hotdish begins with the death of 17-year-old Amber Schlener and the coma of her boyfriend, Johnny Roth, at a high school dance. Joya becomes enmeshed in the Gravano story because the Phoenix police suspect Sammy is involved in dealing drugs—and Joya's part-time live-in boyfriend is a Phoenix cop. She is astonished to learn from her mother that Amber, back in tiny Northville, North Dakota, is dead from drug overdose. Northville? With a high school graduating class of 17? Not possible. Or a Phoenix connection?
Some readers may have problems with the shifting points of view as we move from head to head as the chapters move by, even from head to head on a single page. That said, I had no trouble following the POVs and by organizing her story the way she has, Bommersbach is able to give the reader insights and observations she would have been hard-pressed to give from a single POV.
Here, for example, is a description: "The Catholics put a low rock wall all the way around their cemetery and fancy iron gates at the entrance. Nobody remembers the gates ever being closed and they're rusted in place by now. The cemetery rises in front of you as you drive up the long entrance, the road splitting around a giant marble altar flanked by two towering alabaster angels. Christ on the cross dominates the altar. You could say Mass out here, but nobody remembers any one doing that. Mostly, people just wander around it, admiring the beautiful angels that were imported from Germany decades ago. . . ."
And here's a woman's observation: "Women gossip like a doubles game of ping-pong, everybody talking at once and throwing an idea back and forth. They'll chew on a thing until it's shredded, and then they move on. But men parcel out their thoughts slowly—two, three trains of thought with everyone naturally keeping track. Like multiple lanes of bowling where everybody knows each score. And in the middle of one train, somebody will tell a joke, and when they pick up again, nobody has to be reminded where they left off. So if you want gossip from women, they hand it over neat and tidy. But if you want it from men, you've got to hang in there for hours to get the whole story. . . ."
A funeral hotdish, of course, is what the church ladies prepare to feed the congregation—and in an appendix to the book, Bommersbach includes the recipe that comes from St. Phillip's Church in Hankinson. It's something you'd want to modify to make at home, of course; St. Phillip's version feeds 175.
Funeral Hotdish is a satisfying and engaging hybrid.