Sharon Fiffer’s “Scary Stuff” for the perfect Halloween read

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Fred1110x110BY FRED RUBIN

I’ve mostly been a “hard-boiled” murder mystery fan in my reading life, favoring the “noir” classic detectives like Sam Spade or Phillip Marlowe.   But I recently discovered “cozy mysteries.”  This detective genre typically features unconventional, quirky, often amateur private eyes who have the advantage for the reader of being the kind of people you might actually know, everyday folks one can relate to, only with a knack for uncovering murders.  Often, a second element in this genre is humor.  There’s usually less blood, less mayhem, and more laughs. 


Sharon Fiffer

Sharon Fiffer writes the Jane Wheel Mysteries.

My favorite choices for a “cozy” read are the Jane Wheel Mysteries, a series authored by Sharon Fiffer, which began in 2001 with her debut mystery, “Killer Stuff.”  “Stuff” is found in the title of all five of Fiffer’s previous mysteries because the heroine/detective, Jane Wheel, is an antique picker.  She’s a common sense, mid-western, wife and mother who explores the realm of garage sales, estate sales, flea markets and church bazaars looking for antiques and collectibles to keep or sell at a profit…but she always discovers murder among the bric-a-brac.  Her “picking” abilities give her a keen eye for observation and her bargaining skills exemplify a knack for knowing people.  She is to the American yard sale what Sherlock Holmes was to the British clubroom. 


Just in time for Halloween comes Fiffer’s sixth, and I think best, crime puzzler Scary Stuff, a mystery steeped in the spookiness and imagery of the last night of October when the veil is thin between the real and the supernatural.  The tale begins while Jane visits her brother Michael in California, and a simple case of mistaken identity (several people have mistaken Jane’s brother for an internet auction swindler) spins its way into robbery and death.  One of the fun departures in this yarn is that Jane Wheel ends up dabbling in the more high tech world of collecting: the online internet auction.

The narrative takes us from California to Kankakee, Illinois, Jane’s hometown where many of the mysteries are set.  There, Jane encounters an “authentic” haunted house occupied by an unbalanced old woman named Ada, who may or may not be extremely dangerous.  As the story escalates there are any number of puzzling felonies, assaults, and of course, murder, with enough clues to keep an avid reader guessing and enough Halloween collectibles to keep a collector turning the pages.



Aiding Jane on this case are her delightful cast of regulars, including Tim Lowry, Jane’s best friend, a sarcastic, witty, high-end antiques dealer whose suaveness is a perfect counterpoint to Jane Wheel’s small town charm, and Detective Oh, a for real private investigator, a Japanese-American with a Zen calmness, trying to teach Jane the essentials of case solving to craft her into the perfect P.I. partner.  Also along for the ride is my favorite sidekick, Jane’s hardscrabble mother, Nellie.  Nellie who usually gets in the way of every investigation is laugh-out-loud funny and is perfect comic relief when things get too scary.


Scary Stuff ends with an unforgettable cornfield fire against the backdrop of hundreds of burning jack-o-lanterns as the mystery unravels and strange relations are revealed.  A must-read for Halloween, or any dark night.

For all Los Angelenos, Scary Stuff is the monthly “Delicate But Deadly” Club Selection this month at the Mystery Bookstore in Westwood. Copies signed by Sharon Fiffer are available there.  Mystery Bookstore 1036-C Broxton Ave.  Los Angeles, CA. 90024 (310) 209-0415

Emmy nominated writer Fred Rubin wrote and produced network television comedy for twenty-three years. He has also written articles for The Los Angeles Times, Emmy Magazine, and the Studio City Sun. He is also a writing teacher at UCLA in the department of Theatre Film and Television.





About Karen Young

Karen Young is the founder of My Daily Find.