Review

She Smiled Sweetly
by Mary-Ann Tirone Smith (Cameroon 1965–67)
Henry Holt and Co.
June 2004
288 pages
$25.00

    Reviewed by Maureen M. Smith (Cameroon 1987-89)

    NOT BEING A MURDER MYSTERY FAN, I didn’t expect to like She Smiled Sweetly, the third and latest in a sleuth series featuring the female FBI investigator created by author Mary-Ann Tirone Smith.
         But the opening scene — a foreboding beach smothered with detritus, dead crabs, and tar-spotted seagulls — had me hooked. On this Boston harbor, a detective who found a body asks for help from protagonist Poppy Rice. With each successive chapter, as this brassy, sometimes sassy sleuth delves deeper into the unsolved drowning, the plot intensifies, making the story a page-turner that will keep you reading long past bedtime.
         The suspense comes partly from the empathy you feel with Poppy Rice, willful and determined to solve the mysterious drowning of a pregnant woman and to bring the killer to justice. But before long, the plot thickens when she discovers that another pregnant woman was found drowned 30 years earlier near Ireland. The similar circumstances reach past just how they died. For one, the Boston victim comes from a prominent political family with Irish origins.
         As if two potentially linked murders do not offer complication enough, you soon learn of more than just one suspect. And one of these several apparent antagonists has committed other heinous crimes. Poppy and Rocky Patel, a likeable detective and partner in the case, leapfrog onto one lead after another as they trace the ugly tracks of the suspects.
         Patel, his parents from India, lends to the story’s international flavor. In one scene, Poppy joins Patel and his wife, Lucy, an Italian chef, for a home cooked meal of lamb saag. Perhaps those ethnic touches shouldn’t have surprised me, since Tirone Smith has also written about serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Cameroon.
         Beyond the intrigue and suspense of the mystery lies a strong and satisfying moral. This woman sleuth can stand up for those whose rights went awry and she can put perpetrators in their proper places. Like the title of the book, the end result — justice — smiles sweetly.

    Maureen M. Smith is a writer who is currently completing “My African Sister,” a memoir which chronicles her friendship with a rural African woman she met while serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Cameroon. She has published hundreds of articles in many publications including the Christian Science Monitor and the Minneapolis Star Tribune. For further information, see www.maureenMsmith.com.