The Bottom Line: A hilarious page-turner that effortlessly blends crime, humor and South Florida beach culture. Recommended for fans of Richard Osman and Alexander McCall Smith.
Funeral Daze begins as broke lottery winner and widower Danny Tweakwell receives an invitation from the Slagger-Jewell Funeral Home. He’s had no contact with the home since the Jewell family helped him out of a major jam five years earlier. This time, the service is for the home’s elder statesman, Jarrod Jewell Sr.
Shortly afterwards, the funeral home is up for sale, and 12-year Jessica Jewell lands on Danny’s doorstep. When he calls Jessica’s parents to remind them that he’s basically a stranger, they tell him this: “There’s less likelihood anyone can find her this way.” They withhold more details, and the girl soon enlists Danny to help her find her parents and recover the funeral home. Amidst the already unusual circumstances, the first clue that the home’s new owners aren’t what they seem is the size of the new caskets. While watching a shipment arrive through binoculars, Jessica notices that they are double the usual width. Next, she and Danny scramble to find a copy of her father’s will before the new owners do. And where is it, you might ask? In a casket, of course. It seems her father likes to nap in a model customized with memory foam and a secret compartment that may hold the will as well as a 1966 copy of Playboy.
Award-winning author Dorian Box (Psycho Tropics, The Hiding Girl) has always employed brilliant doses of well-timed levity in crime fiction, but he pulls out all the stops for this laugh-out-loud caper. That’s evident early on in Danny’s backstory, as Box hilariously portrays him as one of the world’s unluckiest people. Not only has Danny lost his wife, but he also survived a murder rap despite the fact that his “attorney,” Bennie “Fink” Finkel, wasn’t even licensed during the trial. And he hasn’t visited his surf shop, aptly named Nine Lives, in weeks. Meanwhile, one of Box’s criminal masterminds, Luis, understands that his bloodless past is a liability in his line of work. To make up for it, he pays his barber to spread rumors about him, including a fabricated story that he gouged the eyeballs out of ten men and ate them like hors d’oeuvres.
While Box is clearly going for laughs (and getting them) here, the stakes remain high enough to create page-turning entertainment. Set largely in South Florida’s breezy beach communities, Funeral Daze is a perfect vacation read.