The King is Dead.
Set in Tupelo in the midst of an international barbecue cook-off, this entrancing murder mystery--a combination of Carl Hiaasen's Double Whammy and Elaine Dundy's Elvis and Gladys--is Shankman's fifth featuring amateur sleuth Sam (Samantha) Adams, and the first in which the prose isn't held back by tedious plotting. A web of full-blown Southern characters trailing hazy pasts moves the story on with slapback dialogue ('"Do you think y'all are related?' 'Only if you think sleeping with the same man makes women kin'"); Sam Adams, functioning less as private eye than as catalyst, stays out of the way and lets a biting, felt critique of the Southern class system emerge alongside a progressively creepy Jesse Garon Presley impersonator. Like Bobbie Ann Mason or Jill McCorkle with a more convincing sense of humor, or anyway less to worry about, Shankman communicates a joy in making words dance on the page that's rare in the best fiction: "The second bullet flew like a little bird right into Obie's open mouth and out the back of his head." This is a book of pleasures; it only made me nervous when I realized the pages were running out.