By Margaret S. Hamilton
While reviewing lists of recently published mysteries with a historic home renovation setting, I came across Mary Kay Andrews’s The Homewreckers. I had read and enjoyed Kathy Hogan Trocheck’s Callahan Garrity mystery series, and once I realized the witty and articulate former Atlanta Journal Constitution reporter writing women’s fiction was Trocheck using a pen name, I plunged into The Homewreckers.
It’s a great read, combining a cold case murder with present day evidence found at a home renovation site. Adding to the zaniness of filming an HGTV-type demo reno show is a substantial subplot involving the intrepid main character’s love life. I would have preferred more crime scene investigation and fewer flirtatious scenes over a whipped cream-topped brownie, but Andrews makes it all work.
I love the humor in Trocheck’s Atlanta-based House Mouse mystery series, particularly her main character’s interactions with her cleaning service employees. In The Homewreckers, Andrews creates a memorable cast of construction workers with a low tolerance for the meddling TV filming crew.
Main character Hattie Kavanaugh is a thirty-something widow, involved up to her hardhat in historic home renovations in Savannah. With the assistance of her family and close friends, Hattie buys a nearby Tybee Island cottage at a town auction and starts renovating it with the assistance of a TV producer and “designer.” Hattie is on a tight timeline, struggling to meet the demands of local zoning and building codes as well as the TV show’s producer. The usual construction surprises—rotten pipes, jerry-rigged electrical wiring, and termites—are dwarfed when Hattie and her crew find a body on site. Hattie, with the assistance of a local police detective, succeeds in solving what went wrong for the victim.
Hattie has a passion for restoring historic Savannah buildings to their former glory:
“…what I love best about my job is walking through an old house. Touching it, wondering about its past, listening to it, and then figuring out how to bring it back to life again for a new family…Sometimes we work months and months on a house, slogging through the nasty stuff, replacing old pipes, ripping out knotty pine paneling from the sixties and gross bathrooms, and it feels like you’ll never get it all done. Then, one day, the plaster’s patched and painted, and we switch on a crystal chandelier I found in a junk shop, and bam! It feels like I’ve won the lottery. And I forget all about the sweat and tears and rat poop.” (p.41)
Andrews knows the details of filming a home renovation show, displays her affection for Tybee Island, and throws in a credible mystery compelling enough to keep readers engaged. The Homewreckers is a thoroughly enjoyable summer read. I hope Andrews helps Hattie find another potential gem to renovate, perhaps with less interference from a TV crew.