Fatal Fortune by Elizabeth Delisi
(Petals of Life, $10.95, PG) ISBN 1-892745-09-7
Fatal Fortune mixes fortunetelling with crime, and the results are mixed. The inhabitants of Cheyenne, North Dakota, regard Lottie Baldwin as the resident fruitcake. She reads Tarot cards, gives occasional art lessons, and does a few taxes in order to make a go of things. She's half in love with Harlan Erikson, sergeant in the sheriff's office, and her best friend Janet comes to Lottie with her problems. Only this time, Janet has a huge problem her husband Harry has disappeared and the sheriff doesn't seem to think it's worth looking into. Lottie's Tarot cards tell her otherwise.

Soon Lottie has Harlan on the scent, but when things don't move along and Harry doesn't turn up, Lottie decides to get involved herself. She tries to interview Harry's boss and gets asked to leave. She tries to interview one of the mysterious rich men in town and that doesn't work, either. Harlan is getting a little fed up with Lottie's antics. And where's Harry?

Well, Harlan wasn't alone. This reader was a little fed up with Lottie, too. Her idea of "playing detective" is to throw a scarf over her hair and put on sunglasses, then hope for the best. Unfortunately, all this did was make her look like something off a TV sitcom. It's hard to believe that in a town of a thousand people that Lottie could believe she'd pass unrecognized, when everyone seems to know her as the town kook.

My reaction to this book was mixed. The best parts were the chapter headings, each featuring a Tarot card with its meaning, and all matched to the plot. Harlan is suitably exasperated with Lottie and seems to know how to do his job. The rest of the story, however, fell flat. Debut author Delisi falls into the trap of "telling, not showing" and the story is told in an impersonal style that rarely makes the reader privy to Lottie's or Harlan's thoughts. The characterization is minimal, and ultimately, it's hard to care about either of these characters because you never get to know them. The secondary characters are pretty cardboard, too. The sheriff is a fat redneck who cares more about his coffee than solving a crime. Janet wrings her hands and worries a lot but doesn't contribute much to the story, and I still don't know how Lottie managed to make any kind of a living since she never seemed to do any work. The book was only 154 pages long. It could have been a lot more developed.

The mystery fares somewhat better. The question of who killed Harry is answered in satisfactory fashion. And I enjoyed learning a little bit about Tarot cards.

On a readability note, the typesetting of this book is very odd. The font is tiny, the margins are huge, and the paragraph indentations cover about one-fourth of a line. Increasing the font size, cutting the margins in half, and fixing the indent spacing would have made this book a lot easier on the eyes.

All in all, Fatal Fortune was a not-entirely-satisfying read. At $10.95 and 154 pages, it's hard to recommend it, but if you're interested in Tarot, you may want to have a look.

--Cathy Sova

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